Suicide awareness could be option for teacher development training
JEFFERSON CITY - Any licensed educator in Missouri may soon have the option to complete annual training in youth suicide awareness and prevention.
Both bills would allow any licensed educator in Missouri to take up to two hours of training yearly to learn the signs and symptoms of someone who may be at risk of suicide.
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said her main motive for filing the bill was because of the high rate of suicide in Missouri.
"We know that our young people are at high risk and for some reason, especially in the state of Missouri, for completing suicide. So, we want to make sure that those people who spend so much time with them each day during the week at school have training to help identify them so we can interrupt with someone who is having suicide ideation," Schupp said.
According to Missouri Student Survey, 11.7 percent of youth in Missouri reported they seriously considered suicide in 2014. In 2012 the numbers were no different with 11.9 percent of youth reporting they also considered it.
The Missouri Institute of Health also reported suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds and the third highest cause of death among 10-14 year olds.
"It's always surprising the numbers of kids who step forward and the numbers who say 'I need help now,'" Schupp said.
Beth Eiken, a Columbia mother, lost her son Stuart to suicide in 2009. He was a 17-year-old Rock Bridge High School student and athlete.
"I think it's important to maintain the message [of suicide] over the life time, to carry it on through generations," Eiken said.
Eiken started the Stuart B. Eiken Foundation in remembrance of her son to promote awareness for the prevention of teenage suicide. She has since been going into schools around mid-Missouri to talk to students about Stuart's story and what to look out for in one another.
"His story makes me very passionate about getting the information out to the public and teaching people and teaching them to be aware of [suicide] and what's going on," Eiken said. "It's always better to air on the side of safety and if someone is having issues, talk to them about it."
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 39 states have laws in place that encourage or require training of educational personnel in suicide prevention. Missouri is one of 11 states with no such law.
Missouri's suicide rate ranks 18th in the nation.
"Over the last few years we're seeing it more and more. So, it's getting out there a little more but waiting for it to happen to someone in order to remind people that it's happening, not a good deal," Eiken said.
If either bill passes, the training for teachers would not be required but would become an option for professional development hours required for state board of education certification. The option would become available in 2017.
"The one thing I really believe about teachers is they care so deeply about our students and if they're given this opportunity, I think the vast majority of them will choose to take it because they do want to do what they can to make sure not only the academics of our students are going well but also their social well-being," Schupp said.
Eiken said she believes the way to start the conversation on the topic of suicide is to not be afraid to talk about it with others.
"The stigma needs to go away. The fear of the subject matter needs to go away because it's there and it's very real," Eiken said.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts about suicide, you are encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-8255.