Lawmakers promote youth suicide prevention with school gatekeeper bill

BOISE, Idaho - Idaho lawmakers are tackling the serious issue of youth suicide prevention with House Bill 634.

The legislation introduced by Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, provides suicide awareness and prevention training for all public school personnel. 

"It's focused on gatekeeper training, so, not just on teachers, but on those in the lunch room, the janitors, the bus drivers, anybody who has an interaction with a student," Troy said. 

The legislation allows school districts to adopt a suicide prevention policy and choose an evidence-based gatekeeper program to implement based on the needs of their district. 

Troy said costs will be minimal as many gatekeeper programs are available from a number of sources at no cost to school districts.

Annika Klein, 20, testified in favor of the bill. Klein said a teacher in her high school saved her life. 

"I was a suicidal teenager," Klein said. "I lost all motivation after losing someone close to me."

Klein said a male teacher noticed her change in behavior and pulled her aside. 

"He asked me why I wasn't how I used to be," Klein said. "He asked me how he could help, and he asked me how I've been feeling. For the first time, an authority other than my mother had validated my feelings and made me feel important. Even though it was one teacher out of seven, it was enough and made me feel like I wasn't so alone anymore."

According to the Suicide Action Prevention Network of Idaho, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Idahoans age 15-34. Between 2012 and 2016, 105 Idaho school children died by suicide, 27 of those children were age 14 or younger.

"I want people to recognize the signs of somebody who's just really struggling and not only be able to recognize the signs but give them the resources and help that they need to get better," Klein said. 

The bill passed out of the House Education Committee on a unanimous voice vote and heads to the full House for approval. 

"I think it's probably one of the most important bills of the entire session," Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d'Alene, said. 

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information and local resources. If you are struggling, do not hesitate to reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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