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Gov. Markell signs teen suicide prevention bill

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Anne Hoffman/Delaware Public Media
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Cyndi McLaughlin (left) sits Gov. Jack Markell during Monday's bill signing.

Governor Jack Markell signed new teen suicide prevention legislation into law Monday at Gunning Bedford Middle School in New Castle.

 

House Bill 90 - sponsored by House Majority leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) mandates that Delaware public school teachers complete 90 minutes of training on the signs of suicide.  It also requires schools to establish a suicide prevention committee and local education agencies to create a suicide prevention policy.

 

Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf says the issue of teen suicide in the First State is particularly urgent after a rash of deaths in 2012 in Kent and Sussex Counties.

 

That prompted a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation which found kids in those counties had limited access to afterschool activities, a lack of mental health resources at their disposal, and that the adults and peers in their lives had a general lack of understanding around mental illness.

 

Landgraf says this new law - with its focus on training the adults in kids’ lives - will help change that.

 

Cyndi McLaughlin lost her son, Jeremy, to suicide in 2001 when he was fifteen. McLaughlin says things might have ended differently if a teacher had felt empowered to report their concern that Jeremy was struggling with mental illness.

"I would have preferred someone said to me, 'Hey, this is what I saw, you might want to check into this,' rather than not report because they were afraid they might offend somebody by saying they thought my son had signs of mental illness," she said.

 

The new legislation allows teachers to anonymously report concerns about students.

 

McLaughlin added that it can be hard for parents to see warning signs, and that teachers often spend more time with children at school than families do at home.

 

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, who sponsored the measure, said it focuses on teachers for precisely that reason.

 

"They’re the ones who are around the children and know what’s going on in their lives. And if we can only teach them how to look for the signs of teen suicide, then maybe we can prevent one child from committing suicide," she said.

 

The bill goes into effect later this month.

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