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Mental-health issues among students are on the rise across the country. In 2012, for example, a national association of college counseling directors found that 95 percent of surveyed members said the number of students with “significant psychological problems” was a growing concern on their campus. Furthermore, roughly 70 percent of directors thought the number of students with “severe psychological problems” at their institution had increased within the previous year alone.
Such issues seem to be prevalent at the local level too, among students much younger than their college counterparts. That’s why At-Large D.C. Councilmember David Grosso today introduced the “Youth Suicide Prevention and School Climate Survey Act of 2015,” a bill designed to help District officials identify students at risk for self-harm through data-based reporting and mental-health services. Nearly three-quarters of the council co-introduced the bill at a morning meeting.
“These students should be living and thriving, not planning to end their lives,” Grosso declared.
The bill has three major parts. First, it would require the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to develop a training curriculum for all school-based personnel about suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention, to be administered for “at least two hours” annually. Second, it would require school districts—known as “Local Education Agencies” or LEAs—to adopt complementary policies on student suicide. Lastly, it would require LEAs to administer “school climate surveys” by the 2016-17 academic year and report the surveys’ results to OSSE. OSSE would then submit a yearly report of findings to the D.C. Council and State Board of Education.
In large part, the legislation targets “youth sub-groups” at the greatest risk for suicide, including those who have mental-illness or substance-use disorders, those experiencing homelessness or “out-of-home settings,” and LGBTQ youth. According to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control survey that Grosso cited, almost 40 percent of LGBTQ middle-school students in the District had attempted suicide at least once, and 30 percent of LGBTQ high-school students had attempted suicide within the past year. Overall, the survey found, 14.7 percent of D.C. high-school students had ever planned to commit suicide—by Grosso’s calculation, that’s 1,668 of today’s population.
“Ultimately school climate surveys can help identify improvements needed at schools so we can start to hold schools accountable for making those improvements,” Grosso explained in a press release. “More importantly, it could help save students’ lives.” (The bill, however, has a built-in liability clause that limits accountability, specifying: “No person shall have a private right of action for any loss or damage caused by any act or omission resulting from the implementation of the provisions of this act or resulting from any training, or lack thereof, required by this act.”)
The bill says OSSE must update “training and curriculum options at a minimum every 5 years.” If enacted, proponents hope it could go a long way towards stemming mental-health disorders that spring up later in life through early intervention—a long-term investment in children’s futures.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery