All of us share a commitment to ensuring our schools are physically and emotionally safe and supportive places for students to learn and thrive.
That’s why I was so troubled to read in the findings of our latest Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey that 16.8 percent of our middle school students and 14.6 percent of high school students have seriously considered attempting suicide.
As a parent and grandparent, the reality that youth with such incredible potential feel so overwhelmed and helpless deeply saddens me. And as your Commissioner of Education, I want you to know our Department is collaborating with others to take serious steps to help students before they harm themselves.
Last year, following unanimous passage by the Legislature, Governor LePage signed a law that requires all school staff (including but not limited to teachers, support staff, custodians, coaches and cafeteria workers) to participate in suicide prevention and awareness education. The one- to two-hour in-service training module must be completed by all high school personnel beginning in the 2014-15 school year and by all elementary and middle school personnel starting in the 2015-16 school year. The law also requires each school district to have at least two school personnel trained as suicide prevention gatekeepers. (Districts with more than 1000 students require additional gatekeepers.)
As the training coordinator for the Maine Suicide Prevention Program (MSPP), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Maine has historically received some training funds from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention but the number of sessions necessary in the first two years of the law necessitated additional funding. Understanding how important this work was, the Governor generously donated $44,000 from his own contingency fund.
In the months since, our Department (led by our Health Education and Health Promotion Coordinator Susan Berry) and our colleagues at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services have been working with NAMI Maine in identifying opportunities to inform education organizations about the law, expanding the MSPP training calendar and developing an online training tool. I am proud to say already more than a dozen trainings have been added across the state to this spring’s calendar alone, including those for training-the-trainer and gatekeepers.
I encourage you and your school colleagues to make time for this training as soon as you can, not simply because of the law, but because it is the right thing to do for our kids. For a schedule of upcoming trainings and to register, go to NAMI Maine’s training schedule. For more information about the new law, check our Frequently Asked Questions. Additionally, the Maine DHHS has extensive suicide prevention resources for students, families and schools at www.maine.gov/suicide and those in crisis are always encouraged to call 888-568-1112.
Our students need to know they are not alone and that their schools are filled with staff who care about them and are safe sources of support. By taking advantage of these expanded State-sponsored training opportunities, each of us can increase our confidence and ability to fulfill that promise to them.
One thought on “Expanded suicide prevention training helps us better support students”
Thank you for bringing attention to this critical issue. While all school staff members should be trained to recognize and respond to signs of extreme depression or suicidal ideation in our students, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of a holistic, preventative approach also. The field of cognitive neuroscience is exploding with evidence to show that attitudes and affects are literally contagious (on a biological level). Teachers and students are under increasing pressure to perform within a “culture of accountability” that, in many cases, is translating into a culture of fear and stress.
So many resources are presently allocated to improving school safety – but the remote entry systems, bullet-proof glass, and video surveillance equipment simply provide a façade – an illusion of safety. Our students will truly be safer when we: increase mental health services and supports in schools; deliberately cultivate positive, welcoming, inclusive school cultures; and provide direct, ongoing instruction in the Social / Emotional skills that are prerequisite to successful performance within Academic Standards.