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New bill mandates Okla. school districts complete suicide prevention training

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Posted at 11:00 AM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 08:26:23-04

TULSA, Okla.  — For years state lawmakers have tried passing legislation to curb the rise of teen suicide, and they say it starts with educators.

After failing to pass previous suicide prevention bills, hope lingers with the passage of Senate Bill 21.

"Right now, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the country for young people 10 to 21 years of age," Senator Kay Floyd of Oklahoma City said.

It's a statistic no parent wants their child to be in, but the reality is youth suicide rates are on the rise and increasing across the nation by about 40 percent. In Oklahoma, the state's Youth and Young Adult Suicide report show rates are up 100 percent since 2007.

"It's a problem that's grown, and it just seemed like the right time to make it mandatory," Floyd said.

Floyd is talking about mandatory suicide prevention training for school districts. It's legislation she tried to introduce five years ago.

"The first year, I could not get it through because we had put mandatory training of teachers on suicide prevention programs in the bill, so I had to take the mandatory proponent out," she said.

She changed the language, taking out the word mandatory and replacing it with "may be taught." Some schools across the state implemented the training, but Floyd said others just weren't interested.

Fast forward five years and the issue of youth suicide is only getting worse, according to state statistics. Floyd decided to try again to combat the issue with SB 21.

"I went back, tweaked the language a bit, and talked to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services," Floyd said. "I let them know what we were going to do by making it mandatory training."

This type of bill gives hope to mothers like Melissa Silaygi, who lost her son in 2019.

Nate Silaygi, 15, expressed thoughts of suicide in a school essay, but Melissa said although his teacher told her that her son had dark thoughts, the teacher never reported a mention of suicide to the school. Nate died by suicide in August 2019, and his mother discovered his essay on his phone after his death.

READ MORE: Nate's story

"I don't know if you can ever do enough, but I think it's a big piece of the puzzle," Floyd said of SB 21.

Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill last month, which now mandates teachers in every school district receive one hour of training every two years to recognize and prevent suicide. The cost to school districts is free.

"The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has provided the coursework free of charge to all districts," Floyd said. "If the school district makes the determination that they want to have more training, maybe two hours every two years or one hour every one year, the school districts have total discretion on that."

As the state faces a mental health crisis in teens, the State Department of Education said the hope is to implement more training with the bill in place and see a decrease in the rate of teen suicide.

Rebecca Hubbard, an adjunct assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, said parents and peers could play a role in suicide prevention, too.

"You're going to look for significant mood changes," she said. "These are really significant and may be pervasive. Maybe they were normally a happy outgoing kid and playful, and suddenly they are angry, frustrated, withdrawn."

Hubbard said it's essential to check on your child's mental health the same way you would check on their physical health.

"Mental health lies within the brain, and that's no different than our heart or our stomach," she stated. "It's an organ that can struggle, and it's an organ that needs to be treated if it's struggling."

Hubbard adds it's vital to be considerate and thoughtful about your child's mental health and always know it's OK to seek help.

SEE MORE: Resources for suicide prevention

Legislators said they're going to track the progress of mandated training in schools. If things don't get better and the numbers don't trend downward, they say they'll work harder to do more and introduce a program that works.


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