AP NEWS

Federal bill would help suicide prevention in schools

May 11, 2019

NEWTOWN - A federal bill backed by a home-grown nonprofit to bolster suicide prevention in middle school and high school has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

The bill, which was developed at the encouragement of Newtown-based Sandy Hook Promise, is aimed at combatting the second leading cause of death in ages 10 through 34, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The goal is to help school districts provide more suicide prevention training programs of the type offered by Sandy Hook Promise, a group whose founders include parents of first graders slain in the 2012 elementary school massacre.

“This fits right in with our model of prevention by training people to know the warning signs of violence,” said Mark Barden, a co-founder and co-director of Sandy Hook Promise, who lost a son in the 2012 massacre. “About 70 percent of people who complete suicide tell someone about it first.”

Sandy Hook Promise’s Signs of Suicide Prevention Program is one of four initiatives offered free to school communities to help people spot red flag behavior before it becomes violent.

The suicide prevention bill, which was introduced this week by U.S. Reps. Scott Peters, D-CA, and Gus Bilirakis, R-FL, would need to pass the House and the Senate and then be signed by the president.

“[W]e must prioritize early prevention, heed warning signs, and give educators and administrators the tools to stop violence before it happens,” Peters said in a prepared release.

Bilirakis agreed.

“By providing high-quality screening and prevention training to school staff and peers, we can identify threats before they materialize, and ensure that those who are at risk get the mental health treatment they need,” Bilirakis said in a press release. “Sadly, some communities in my district are among those with the highest suicide rates in our state. With training like this, we can help reverse that troubling trend.”

Sandy Hook Promise has become one of the leading organizations of its kind in the country, in part because of successful lobbying in Washington for new bills.

The group was instrumental in crafting the $100 million STOP School Violence Act that was signed into law in early 2018 by president Trump, for example. The act pays for evidence-based violence prevention programs, such as those offered by Sandy Hook Promise.

“This is a devastating problem,” Barden said. “We hope to introduce a bill in the senate soon.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342