The statistics related to teen suicide in North Dakota are startling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us one in eight North Dakota teens has made a plan to commit suicide and one in nine has made an attempt.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in North Dakota, according to the attorney general’s office.
The reasons behind teen suicide are complicated. Fixes aren’t simple or clear. It’s a problem statewide.
The North Dakota Legislature has responded to this stubborn issue with what could be a very effective strategy. The state House and Senate passed legislation requiring school districts to provide at least two hours of training, once every two years, “related to youth suicide risk indicators, appropriate staff responses and referral sources.”
While teachers should not be expected to be social workers, they come into contact with young people more frequently than anyone other than parents. It puts them in a unique position to identify students expressing the signs of suicide.
“Four of five young people who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs before the attempt,” said Rep. Bob Hunskor, D-Newburg, speaking in support of the legislation.
It’s not possible for schools to identify every potential suicide attempt, but the training and increased awareness on the part of school personnel suggest an opportunity for positive intervention in a young person’s life.
The legislation directs the superintendent of public instruction to work with the state Health Department in developing and providing material free to school districts. Those materials are to include training aids from the Jason Foundation, which is “dedicated to the prevention of the ‘Silent Epidemic’ of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs that equip young people, educators/youth workers and parents with the tools and resources to help identify and assist at-risk youth.”
Not only are teachers positioned well to make this training effective, but they also, by their natures and profession, have a special relationship with young people. Still, the community asks a lot from educators and their special talents. This is one more life-affirming demand placed on their shoulders. One they accept whether they are asked to or not.
The Legislature did right in providing quality training for this critical issue.