Suicide ranks as one of the leading causes of death for American youths, but state officials hope to change that.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Jason Flatt Act this month to help prevent teen suicide by providing suicide prevention funding to schools.
The act, sponsored by state Senator Robert Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), is named for a 16-year-old victim of suicide, Jason Flatt. The Jason Foundation, started by Jason’s family, sponsored the bill.
“The bill authorizes school districts to use a portion of their Professional Development Block Grant funds to provide suicide prevention training to teachers,” said Schwarzenegger spokesperson Camille Anderson.
Beginning in 2014, the act will allow districts who already receive the grant to offer their teachers two hours of training.
“Losing even one young life to suicide is one too many – and that is why I signed the Jason Flatt Act today,” Schwarzenegger said in a written statement. “It’s my sincere hope other states will follow our lead in helping ensure teachers across the nation are trained to recognize the warning signs of youth suicide.”
According to the text of the act, suicide ranks as the third-leading cause of death for Americans aged 15 to 24, fourth for ages 10 to 14 and second for those of college age.
The bill was also supported by the California Teachers Association.
“It is a very important piece of legislation,” said CTA spokesperson Sandra Jackson. “Teen suicide is very serious. It’s the third-highest cause for student death, therefore we need to help with professional development.”
While each district will fold the training into its schedule as the individual district sees fit, most trainings will probably be held on staff development days, or teacher work days, leaving school days untouched, Jackson said.
“Teachers think that it’s worthwhile, meaningful and necessary to have a better understanding of suicide,” Jackson said. “And to be able to [identify] stressors that would be indicators of a suicide risk. A student’s life is precious, and to end it by suicide is traumatic to both the student and the community.”
Some districts, like the Davis Joint Unified School District, employ special psychologists to deal with suicide prevention and other counseling needs. Certified school psychologist Deb Kimokeo works for DJUSD as the district’s crisis counselor.
“My role is to help children, families and even staff members who are in crisis, either personally or as a family,” Kimokeo said in a letter to parents last year. “I am often involved when families are struggling to stay together, when they are facing a life threatening illness, death or other serious change in their lives…. I frequently conduct presentations for parents and staff members on crisis intervention, suicide prevention and brain research.”
Kimokeo has helped to educate students and their communities about suicide prevention and mental health awareness through workshops, classes and one-on-one sessions.
Any student registered at UC Davis (including those registered for summer session) already has access to Counseling and Psychological Services as well as peer counseling offered by The House, which is located on campus next to the UC Davis Housing Office. Students not enrolled for summer sessions who wish to make use of CAPS counseling can purchase a card for $40 to receive short-term counseling. If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, call 1-800-SUICIDE.
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