RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — While campaigning door to door, Del. Danica Roem met a constituent who had lost her only child to suicide. The mother had one request – make suicide prevention training available to all school employees.
Now Roem, D-Manassas, has introduced HJ 138, a joint resolution that would request all Virginia school boards provide every employee with resources or training on how to identify students at risk of suicide.
“This is something that is incumbent upon all of us at the General Assembly, regardless of party label, to make sure that we are working together to take care of our kids and working together to make sure that the caretakers of our children, from maintenance professionals all the way up to the principals, are able to see our kids for the lives they are living and identify the struggles that they have,” Roem said.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of deaths for people age 10 to 18. In 2015, 1,097 people in Virginia died by suicide, and 35 of those suicides were carried out by children under 18, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
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While school districts would not be required to comply with the resolution, it is meant to motivate them to take steps toward suicide prevention.
“This provides as much flexibility at the local level as possible,” Roem said. “This is allowing the people who are on the ground there to identify and figure out what works best for them.”
The resolution would expand on SB 1250, a 1999 law that required all licensed school personnel to report a child they suspect might be suicidal. However, it did not require those professionals be trained on how to identify students at risk.
When it was passed, SB 1250 also mandated that the Board of Education and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services create a Code of Virginia Suicide Prevention Guidelines.
“An ideal set of training and guidelines for suicide prevention incorporates many aspects of mental health and mental health awareness,” said Dr. Adam Kaul of the Psychiatric Society of Virginia. “Suicide itself is not a source of disease or a specific condition; it is often an end product of mental illness and distress.”
HJ 138 has been assigned to a House Rules Subcommittee and is scheduled to be considered on Friday. Roem’s resolution is co-sponsored by 10 Democrats and one Republican – Del. Matthew Fariss of Appomattox County.
“Anything that would make us smarter about suicide as a society, I think, is something we need to try to do,” Fariss said.
This story was produced by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.