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New bill mandates suicide prevention training in schools

James Dawson Delaware Public Media
House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) announcing her suicide prevention initiative

After a rash of youth suicides in Kent and Sussex Counties in 2012, state lawmakers are looking to mandate prevention education for all public school workers.

Everyone would be required to have no less than 90 minutes of training annually. Additionally, each school would allow students to report at-risk kids anonymously.

Every district would pay for any costs associated with running the program.

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) says Colonial School District officials are on board with the plan and that she doesn’t think there will be grumbling.

“Even if there was money attached to it, I think everybody would agree that this is money well spent in the districts by parents and the teachers," said Longhurst. "I don’t see foresee it being any issue at all.”

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among those between 10 and 24 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Delaware isn’t immune.

11 young people killed themselves and another 116 attempted suicide in Kent and Sussex Counties within four months in 2012, prompting a CDC investigation. The final report found a lack of access to mental health professionals, inadequate training in spotting at-risk children and a dearth of after school activities.

Jamie Caruso, president of the Delaware Association of School Psychologists, says she thinks the state has a solid base of counseling services for students, but more needs to be done.

“This is another great first step in the line of prevention, but we also need a lot more work in preventing mental health issues in general and getting the supports where the kids are, which is in the schools,” Caruso said.

She also notes that she thinks schools will see the value in this program, but that it is piling onto what is already a full plate.

"It's just like everything else, trying to figure out how to get the time to do this when you have so many other initiatives going on at the same time."

If approved, policies for each school would need to be in place by September 2016.