Recent Legislative Trends Addressing the Ongoing Suicide Crisis

K-12Postsecondary & Workforce

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This September, during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we reflect on the current state of students’ mental health and the ongoing suicide health crisis. Recent research shows that hospitals across the country saw a 24% increase in mental health emergency visits by children ages 5-11 years old, and a 31% increase for students 12-17 between March and May 2020 alone. Alongside this mental health crisis, youth suicide rates continue to rise at alarming rates. The CDC reports that suicide rates among youth aged 10-24 increased over 50% between 2007 and 2017.  

States have been working to address this troubling issue for several years. According to NASBE’s State Policy Database on School Health, approximately 34 states have laws requiring or encouraging districts to adopt suicide prevention policies. In just the last few years, about 50 bills have been enacted in over half of the states related to suicide prevention. In prior years, most bills addressed training for school personnel and for incorporating suicide prevention into curricula and school programming. While those actions continue to be the primary avenues for state leaders to support suicide prevention efforts in schools, we are also seeing a trend in legislation requiring K-12 schools and higher education institutions to incorporate crisis hotline information on student identification cards.  

In the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions alone, at least nine states (AR, AZ, IL, KY, MI, SC, TX, WA and WI) have passed laws instituting hotline information requirements. Some of these bills also ask schools, districts and higher education institutions to publicly post this information on their websites. At least four states have passed multiple bills over the last two years addressing both ID cards and other aspects of suicide prevention: 

    • In 2020, Arizona enacted two pieces of legislation related to suicide prevention. S.B. 1446 requires that student identification cards in grades 9 through 12 and at higher education institutions include either a telephone number for a national or local suicide prevention lifeline, a telephone number for a national network of local crisis centers or a statement describing how to access a text-based emotional support service. S.B. 1445 requires training for school employees, including school counselors and social workers in suicide awareness and prevention.  
    • Illinois enacted H.B. 1778 in 2021, requiring school districts serving grades 6 through 12, public colleges and universities to include information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Crisis Text Line, and either the Safe2Help Illinois helpline or a local suicide prevention hotline on student identification cards, student handbooks and student planners.  

With respect to the creation of a model policy on suicide preventionH.B. 577 specifies student groups that are at increased risk of suicide, including students with mental health and substance abuse disorders, students experiencing homelessness, students from the LGBTQ community, students with disabilities or medical conditions, students who reside in out-of-home placements, students who engage in self-harm, students who have previously attempted suicide and students who are bereaved by suicide. 

    • Washington H.B. 2589, enacted in 2020, requires public schools and higher education institutions to include contact information for suicide prevention and crisis intervention organizations on student and staff identification cards. S.B. 6168 appropriates funds for grants to schools or districts for planning and integrating tiered suicide prevention and behavioral health supports.  
    • In addition to passing student identification legislation similar to the examples above (A.B. 531), in 2020, Wisconsin lawmakers passed A.B. 528, requiring the department of public instruction to establish a grant program supporting the implementation or maintenance of peer-to-peer suicide programs in high schools. 

We continue to track state actions related to suicide prevention and student mental health in our State Education Policy Tracking tool. Our Student Health and Wellness Key Issue page also includes resources for education leaders curious about state-level supports for student wellness. Lastly, the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides several helpful resources on recognizing warning signs, preventing suicide and being prepared for a crisis. If you or someone you know are in a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255.  

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Senior Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States | arafa@ecs.org

Alyssa Rafa is a former senior policy analyst at Education Commission of the States.

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