CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill Friday aimed at preventing youth suicides by requiring training for teachers and students.
Suicide is among the leading causes of death for young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has become more common in New Hampshire over the past 20 years.
The bill signed into law Friday directs local school districts to develop policies to prevent suicide, assess students at risk of suicide and respond to student suicide, as well as to provide training about youth suicide to staff and students. The bill passed with bipartisan support, and Sununu signed it into law Friday.
In his inaugural address earlier this year, Sununu said preventing youth suicide would be a priority. At a hearing for the bill in January, New Hampshire families who lost loved ones to suicide testified in favor of the bill.
Teachers and other school staff are to be trained to recognize warning signs in students, and respond by connecting students to local resources. The law will require two hours of training per year.
The law requires students to learn about healthy coping mechanisms, warning signs of mental disorders and how to ask for help if they need it.
Each school will have to have a point person who responds when someone reports a student could be at risk for taking his or her own life.
Schools will have to make information about mental health referrals and crisis intervention, available in the school and in the community, and will be expected to work with other schools and community groups to prevent suicide.
A fiscal note attached to the bill shows the state has provided no funding for local school districts to implement the new law.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, the law’s prime sponsor, said he thought suicide prevention would be worth any expense to school districts.
“Given the fact that suicide is one of the leading causes of preventable death of youth in our schools, it’s incumbent upon schools to have this training available for teachers,” he said Friday. “I think whatever cost there will be for cities and towns is pretty reasonable, given the impact it has on kids’ lives.
Bradley said there are organizations that can provide the newly-mandated training for schools for free or at a low cost.
One of those organizations is the Jason Foundation, a Tennessee-based nonprofit founded by Clark Flatt after he lost his 16-year-old son Jason Flatt to suicide in 1997. The foundation helps state legislatures craft suicide prevention legislation, and provides free training to school districts in states that pass the legislation.
New Hampshire’s new law is partially modeled on the foundation’s Jason Flatt Act, said Rep. Gates Lucas in a statement.
Hundreds of thousands of teachers and school staff have been trained with the Jason Foundation, Clark Flatt said, primarily through online trainings.
Flatt said the training, and other similar programs, can help teachers spot children who might need help — but they are not a substitute for counselors.
‘”Our programs are not intended to make teachers or educators into counselors,” Flatt said. “It’s simply to provide them the information and resources to better identify a student with thoughts of suicide, or respond to a student who comes to them.”
The act is set to take effect in October.
Martha Dickey, a Boscawen woman who lost her son to suicide, said in a statement she thought the bill would show New Hampshire’s youth that the state would be there for them.
“We believe that it provides a framework and path forward for mental health and for suicide awareness and prevention in New Hampshire,” she said.
Sununu said in a statement that the state has more work to do to combat suidice.
“We know that today is not the end of our work, but it is an important first step,” he said in a statement.