Reps. Peters, Bilirakis Re-introduce Student Suicide Prevention Bill as Cases of Youth Suicide Surge
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52) and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) re-introduced the bipartisan Suicide and Threat Assessment Nationally Dedicated to Universal Prevention (STANDUP) Act to encourage schools to implement evidence-based suicide prevention training for students in grades 6 through 12. The bill was introduced just days after devastating accounts of a rise in student suicides within a Nevada school district swept the nation.
“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 Rep. Peters.
“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 Rep. Bilirakis.
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.
The STANDUP Act of 2021 requires states, schools and Tribes to implement proven policies to prevent suicides in order to receive Project AWARE grants, which promote youth mental health awareness among schools and communities. These policies are vital in stopping school violence by encouraging early prevention, teaching warning signs and giving students, teachers, and administrators the tools they need to react properly to threats before tragedy occurs.
Over 50 national organizations support the STANDUP Act, including Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit founded by family members who lost loved ones in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.
“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, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. “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.”
Rep. Peters first introduced this bill with Rep. Bilirakis in 2019 with the support of Reps. Ted Deutch (FL-22) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01). This year, Reps. Val Demings (FL-10), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE), Fred Upton (MI-06), John Katko (NY-24), Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Jim Himes (CT-04) and Tim Ryan (OH-13) also joined as original cosponsors.
“The COVID-19 crisis has been a tremendous challenge for our students, families, and educators. 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,” said Rep. Deutch.
“One of the keys to preventing school violence is equipping students, teachers, and administrators with the skills they need to properly react to potential threats before a tragedy occurs,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to partner with Reps. Peters, Bilirakis and Deutch to work to make sure that we are able to provide schools with high-quality mental health screening and prevention training resources. We can prevent suicide and violence in our schools, and we must work together in a bipartisan manner to prevent future tragedies from happening.”