Longhurst Proposes More Resources for Teen Suicide Prevention

Bill would add teacher training, school response plans and district-wide policies


DELAWARE CITY – As part of ongoing work among educators, public health agencies, mental health advocates and youth-centric community groups across the state, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst today introduced legislation that will strengthen the safety net for youth at risk of suicide in Delaware.

Building on the well-studied fact that suicide among young people is preventable with proper intervention resources in place, House Bill 90 would mandate annual suicide prevention training sessions for public school employees. The bill also would require schools to establish suicide prevention and response committees, as well as craft suicide prevention policies that include procedures for confidential and anonymous reporting of at-risk behaviors.

“As a mother of two young adults, I’m horrified by the thought of a young person taking his or her own life when there are people who care and have the ability and resources to help.” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Delaware City. “We know that if people are trained and educated to see the warning signs, they can intervene and help a child who is thinking about doing harm. That’s what we want to see in our schools.”

Thursday’s announcement was made at the Delaware City Community Center, where Rep. Longhurst serves as a mentor to at-risk teenagers in the Police Athletic League’s Suicide And Violence Education (SAVE) program.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A survey of American high school students found that 16 percent had considered suicide in the last year, 13 percent made plans to end their own lives and 8 percent attempted to do so.

“So often in the tragic cases of teen suicide, there are warning signs that are simply missed,” said Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “We owe it to our kids to make sure the right people and processes are in place in our schools, so it’s more likely our kids get the help they need, when they need it.”

Risk factors for suicide include a history of mental illness or depression, substance abuse and stressful life events. Though many who are subject to these factors never contemplate suicide, warning signs can be extremely difficult to identify without special training and instruction.

In 2012, the CDC investigated a cluster of 11 young people who committed suicide in Kent and Sussex counties in the span of approximately four months. The report, which also identified 116 non-fatal suicide attempts, concluded that all the victims had at least two and as many as five or more identifiable risk factors.

The findings sparked new efforts to combat teen suicide in Delaware. House Bill 90 directly addresses a key CDC recommendation for regular training among school personnel. 

“Having a suicide prevention policy and suicide prevention programming in each school along with procedures for how to help a student who is in crisis are essential to a successful prevention program,” said James Lafferty, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Delaware. “Suicide is a major public health problem and our students deserve the best help and care possible when in crisis. The policy called for in this bill goes a long way in providing the most effective coordinated response to a student who may be considering suicide.”

If HB 90 becomes law, school districts and charters would be required to adopt their suicide prevention policies by Sept. 1, 2016 and include those policies in their student and staff handbooks, as well as on their websites.