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Senate bill addresses suicide crisis among schoolchildren in Arizona

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LISTEN: SB1391: Stopping Suicides in Arizona

PHOENIX — The number of people taking their own lives in Arizona is on the rise. In 2017, Arizona ranked No. 12 in the nation for the number of suicides with more than 13,000 across the state.

More than four times as many people die by suicide than by homicide and more people died by suicide in Arizona last year than by opioid overdose. The youngest person to die by suicide in Arizona was 9 years old.

In order to address this epidemic, a group of Arizona lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require officials who work with grades six through 12 at state public and charter schools to undergo suicide prevention training.

The legislation would also require school officials to undergo training to identify warning signs of suicidal behavior in adolescents and teens.

If signed into law, the bill would enact these requirements in the 2019-2020 school year.

The lawmakers, including State Rep. Denise Epstein (D-Tempe), gathered with those affected by suicide and suicide prevention and intervention groups to speak about the legislation on Tuesday.

“Alarm bells would be ringing!” said Epstein. “Suicide is preventable, treatment works, and recovery happens.”

According to Epstein, the bill — formally known as Senate Bill 1391 — aims to save lives by creating an office of State Coordinator for Suicide Prevention.

The job of the coordinator will be to establish training programs among school employees, from teachers and administrators to principals, for them to identify, assist, and aid a student who in is crisis and may harm themselves.

The coordinator will compile a tool kit of programs from advocacy groups, other school districts, and neighborhood coalitions who are working to prevent suicide and distribute materials and implement actions plans from them.

“The state coordinator would work with the Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition providing access to many effective non-profit agency resources,” Epstein said. “We can provide support more efficiently and effectively with one person coordinating the work.”

The bill was introduced in the legislature on Monday and assigned to a number of Senate committees for review.

If you or anyone you know is suffering with suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-273-8255. 

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