Education bill requiring suicide training passes committee

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 22 2012 8:49 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — After hearing alarming testimony on the rate of suicides in Utah, the House Education Standing Committee unanimously forwarded a bill that would require suicide prevention training for Utah public school teachers.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, the sponsor of HB501, said the bill would require two hours of training every five years. He said that with respect to the already heavy burden on Utah teachers, the bill is intentionally broad to allow flexibility in implementing the requirement.

"We have a challenge in the state, we are trying to address that." Hutchings said. "This is a huge issue. It does some weird things to kids, emotionally, when something like this happens in their school."

He was joined by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who said Utah leads the nation for suicide attempts of men between the ages of 15 and 24 and that suicide is the second highest cause of teen death in the state.

"We surprisingly are killing ourselves at a rate higher than the national average," Shurtleff said, noting that twice a day a Utah teenager is checked into a hospital emergency room after a suicide attempt.

Shurtleff said teachers are in a unique position to pick up on signs of depression among their students. He said teachers observe the social interactions of students and the impact those relationships can have.

He also spoke of his own experience with his daughter to emphasize the effect that a concerned and involved individual can have in preventing suicide.

"Because I was there for her, her suicide attempts failed," he said.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, raised the question of what costs would be incurred by the training, but Hutchings responded that the requirement would likely not require additional funding. Other states that have implemented similar programs, he said, have not reported increased costs.

The bill does not specify what the training would entail, but Hutchings suggested that schools could follow the curriculum developed by The Jason Foundation, an educational organization that provides material on teen suicide prevention for free.

Utah State Superintendent Larry Shumway said that the Utah State Office of Education did not yet have an official position on the bill but stated his personal support for the training requirement.

"Some people would say it's one more thing but it's certainly one of the most important things," he said. "I don't think that two hours every five years creates a burden we can't handle."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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