Suicide Prevention Action Network celebrates new law requiring more suicide education for teachers

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – A local suicide prevention organization is celebrating the passage of a bill requiring teachers in Idaho to undergo suicide prevention training each year.

Governor Butch Otter signed House Bill 634, also commonly known as the Jason Flatt Act, into law at the close of the 2018 Idaho legislative session, putting children at risk of completing a suicide closer to resources uniquely positioned to help them.

“We can’t always identify the things that cause a suicide,” Dr. Mathew Larsen, Psychiatry Department Chair at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and the co-chair of the Suicide Prevention Action Network, told KID Newsradio. “But, we know one place to access kids is school and teachers have contact with them every single day. So, this may be one way we can help.”

Idaho currently ranks 10th in the nation for completed suicides, Larsen said, which is an improvement since the Gem state used to rank in the top five.

“There’s about one suicide per day in the state,” Dr. Mathew Larsen “Idaho Falls and southeast Idaho actually does a little better than the rest of the state. Our rate is the lowest in the state at 14 per 100,000.”

Now, teachers will be required to undergo two hours of suicide awareness training each year, a mandate that is cost-free to the state’s general fund and received support from legislators on both sides of the aisle. But, Larsen says the responsibility now falls on schools and districts to decide how to teach their staff and what curriculum they should use.

“It’s important to figure out for each school what this training is going to be,” Larsen said. “That’s going to be the important next step…the bill passed and we have a mandate and it’s there to get teacher’s trained. Now the question is, what do we train them in for those two hours. How do we get them to know a few major risk factors, a few signs and then the biggest part is where to send them to get help, because there are local resources.”

Larsen said there are plenty of resources available and districts can choose how to implement the mandate from the free program available from the Jason Flatt Foundation to the Source of Strength program already being used in some parts of Idaho.

Parents can also get involved in educating themselves, Larsen said, by learning the signs of a child at risk from organizations like the Suicide Prevention Action Network or the Jason Flatt Foundation. Ultimately, Larsen said, parents, teachers and community members must work together to help those who find suicide to be a viable option.

“That’s one of the hopes is as teachers get trained, they recommend it to others,” Larsen said. “Then it’s training the janitor and the lunch lady and the PTA and parents and more people get to know this.”