New Nebraska Law requires suicide prevention training for educators

LB 923 goes into effect on January 1, but won't be implemented until the 2015/2016 school year. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
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December 30, 2014 - 6:45am

In Nebraska, suicide is the second leading cause of death of young people ages 15-19. That statistic prompted lawmakers to pass a new law requiring every educator in the state to go through suicide prevention and awareness training.  The new law takes effect January 1, 2015


“Allison,” a 17-year-old junior at a Lincoln high school, is someone who is known as an at-risk youth. Three years ago, she was taken away from her mother, became a ward of the state, and now lives in a group home.

Last summer, one of Allison’s good friends took her own life.

“We were close friends in middle school. Towards freshman year we became closer. We used to ride the bus together,” Allison said. “[My friend] hung herself in her room one night, and her cousin walked in and found her that morning.”

Image Courtesy of the American Association of Suicidology

According to the American Association of Suicidology, when a person knows someone who has committed suicide, they are more likely to have suicidal thoughts themselves.

Allison is no exception.

“I’ve had plans. I’ve written a letter. And before it happened I just stopped and was like, ‘what am I doing?’ My whole life literally flashed before my eyes. I was like ‘why is this happening?’ There’s got to be something out there that can help,” Allison said.

She said what helped her the most was being able to talk to a friend who told her she mattered.

“I had a friend that was there for me the whole night, talking to me and calming me down,” Allison said, “It’s just a really hard thing to go through if you ever actually think about that kind of stuff.”

And it would seem too many kids are thinking about that kind of stuff.

The most recent statewide statistics from 2012 show 232 Nebraskans killed themselves that year. According to the Lincoln Police Department, of the 41 people who killed themselves in Lincoln this year, 5 were teens. Another 63 attempted suicide.

State Senator Amanda McGill said enough is enough.

“Statistics on suicides haven’t changed much in decades. Even though we’ve really been able to attack chronic illness and expand the lifespan for folks that have physical illnesses, when it comes to suicide we’re very stagnant and there’s a lot more that we could be doing,” McGill said.

State Senator Amanda McGill is the co-author of LB 923. McGill said in addition to helping people with suicidal thoughts, Nebraskans can and should do more to help those suffering from a mental illness as well. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)

McGill is a co-author of a new law that, among other things, requires every educator in the state to go through mandatory suicide prevention and awareness training. It goes into effect on January 1, but won’t really be implemented until the 2015/2016 school year.

The law requires just an hour of additional training, which will be done during regularly-scheduled training days that teachers already attend.

“I’m sure many of them feel ill-equipped because in their teacher training in their college curriculum, they’re not learning about mental health and what to look for in children in terms of signs of these things. So while I can’t say every single suicide will be prevented, teachers will be better equipped,” McGill said.

The Department of Education will decide in January how and exactly what kind of training will be implemented.

Brenda Leggiadro is the coordinator for counselors and social workers at Lincoln Public Schools. She hopes the new training will bolster the district’s current efforts to raise awareness about teen suicide.

“We’ve had more of a trend in the last couple of years. We’ve seen additional suicides and suicide attempts. We’re very concerned,” Leggiadro said.

“Any time we lose one of our students it breaks our heart, and we know the whole community grieves. We want to do what we can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Leggiadro added.

Under the direction of the superintendent, LPS formed a coalition to address the recent suicides.

Image Courtesy of the American Association of Suicidology

Also, Leggiadro said the district currently runs a program called Signs of Suicide, or S.O.S. Eighth and tenth-grade students complete a lesson about depression and suicide, and watch videos about how to react when someone is having suicidal thoughts.

Leggiadro also said the students have an opportunity to talk to someone in more detail about themselves or a friend who might be feeling some stress and needing extra help.

Leggiadro said she’s looking forward to the implementation of the new law and hopes the Department of Education will pick the S.O.S. program for implementation in districts across the state.

Allison said while some students may scoff at efforts like the S.O.S program, it is helping.

“Some kids, I feel, turn to other options because they feel like no one else is there. So if someone like a teacher is there, [the students] will feel like someone is there for them,” Allison said.

According to Allison, by the time she went through the S.O.S. program in tenth grade, it was too late to help her friend who had already committed suicide. However, learning how to respond in a time of need did help her with another friend who was having suicidal thoughts.

“I remember being there and I was like, 'There are so many things in this world that you’re going to miss out on. You may have a messed up dad, you may have divorced parents, you may be the black sheep of the family. But you’re not the black sheep to someone else. There’s someone out there that wants to be there for you and that’s me. That’s me. I want you here,’” Allison said.

Editor's Note:

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please seek help and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). 

Or click on one of the following links for more resources:

www.suicideprevention.nebraska.edu

www.youthsuicideprevention.nebraska.edu

www.nelossteam.nebraska.edu

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