Gus Bilirakis, Scott Peters Bring Back School Suicide Prevention Bill

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., is teaming up again with U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., on the “Suicide and Threat Assessment Nationally Dedicated to Universal Prevention (STANDUP) Act,” a proposal to “encourage schools to implement evidence-based suicide prevention training for students in grades 6 through 12.”

Peters first introduced the bill in June and the U.S. House passed the measure on a voice vote in September. However, the U.S. Senate did not clear the companion bill championed by then U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Col.

At the end of last month, Peters and Bilirakis brought the bill back and they showcased it on Wednesday.

“There is no higher priority than keeping our children safe. By providing high-quality screening and prevention training to school staff and peers, we can identify threats before they materialize, and ensure that those who are at risk get the mental health treatment they need. I’ve seen first-hand how effective these programs can be when I visited a high school in Pinellas which has already implemented these best practices. Sadly, some communities in my district are among those with the highest suicide rates in our state, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. With training like this, we can help reverse that troubling trend,” said Bilirakis.

“There’s never been a more important time to invest in suicide prevention training for our students. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives, we must remain vigilant in addressing the unique mental health challenges affecting children and teens right now. The STANDUP Act takes a proactive, evidence-based approach by equipping students and educators with the skills they need to identify, intervene and get help for those at risk of harming themselves or others. The crisis of youth suicide requires urgent action, and this bill will ensure students across the country have trained adults and peers looking out for them,” said Peters.

More than a dozen members of the House, including U.S. Reps. Val Demings, D-Fla., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., are backing the proposal.

“The COVID-19 crisis has been a tremendous challenge for our students, families, and educators,” said Deutch. “The pandemic plunged students into virtual learning and isolated them away from support services, increased the economic strain on families, and left many students grieving the loss of beloved family members. We can’t ignore the toll this crisis has taken on the mental health of young people. Our bill will help schools implement evidence-based programs to recognize early warning signs, get kids the help they need, and prevent school violence before it is too late.”

“The bill requires states, schools and tribes to implement common sense, evidence-based policies to prevent suicides in order to receive Project AWARE grants, which boost youth mental health awareness among schools and communities. The bill applies to grades 6 through 12, and would equip teachers, administrators and students with the skills they need to identify, intervene and get help for people who are at risk of harming themselves or others,” noted Peters’ office when he first introduced it.

The congressmen insisted their bill is needed more than ever due to the current pandemic.

“While studies are ongoing, new reports indicate that COVID-19 has exacerbated children’s and teens’ anxiety, depression and isolation – stressors commonly associated with suicide. Mental Health America recently identified that those 11 through 17 years old are now at higher risk of anxiety and depression. Their summer youth screening revealed a 14 percent increase in youth anxiety and a 10 percent increase in youth depression since their previous report. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released 2020 data showing a 31 percent increase in mental health-related hospital visits in children aged 12-17 years compared to previous years,” Bilirakis’ office noted.

More than 50 groups, including Sandy Hook Promise, are backing the proposal.

“Prior to the pandemic, suicide was already the second-leading cause of death for young people in the United States. Since COVID-19 started, students have become more socially isolated, stressed, and lonely than ever before. It’s critically important to provide suicide prevention training for our students now,” said Mark Barden, the co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise. Barden lost a son in the Sandy Hook mass school shooting in 2012. “We thank Reps. Scott Peters and Gus Bilirakis for their leadership on this issue and urge more elected officials to join them in support and act fast to save lives. Millions of students nationwide are counting on you.”

Peters’ bill was sent to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee last week. So far, there is no companion measure in the Senate.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

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