As suicide rates increase each year, lawmakers have been looking in various directions for ways to combat suicide. Local Congressman Mark Desaulnier introduced the Suicide Prevention Assistance Act, also known as H.R. 4353, which will establish a grant program that provides suicide prevention services in doctors’ offices. “Expanding access to mental health care, particularly emergency self-harm interventions, is vital,” said Desaulnier. “Health care must be holistic and treat mental health as part of a person’s overall physical health. That is why I introduced H.R. 4353.”
Primary care offices that are awarded a grant shall hire a clinical social worker to screen patients for signs of self-harm or suicide. The clinical social worker can refer suicidal patients to a health care facility to receive long-term self-harm and suicide prevention services.
If this bill is passed, it may affect the Las Lomas Wellness Center. At the Wellness Center, wellness staff refer students to doctors or health care facilities “when they have suicidal ideation,” said Cheryl Stanton, the Wellness Center Intake Specialist. “That’s the main reason why we send them and refer them off to outside resources.” Stanton’s role is to respond to and support students in the Wellness Center and help them cope with whatever issue they’re coming in there for. “[I] ask questions, see what’s happening, what they need. And then I go from there. [I see] if they need to go [to] the support counselor, if they need to go to their academic counselor, they need the nurse…Otherwise we do a twenty minute cooldown.”
In the three years that Stanton has been at Las Lomas, students come into the Wellness Center to talk about suicide or self-harm very often. “We would like to have them always seek outside resources…as far as a psychiatrist, a psychologist, whatever they need to help them through the next four years of school,” said Stanton. “Most kids have anxiety when they’re coming to school, so that’s why they come in here.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as the CDC, 7.1% of children ages three to 17, which is about 4.4 million children, have diagnosed anxiety. Anxiety can have physical symptoms such as fatigue, aching, dizziness, or trouble breathing. Other symptoms can include separation anxiety, social anxiety, irrational fears, or panic.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, or NCBI, 70% of individuals with a reported history of suicide attempts also had an anxiety disorder. Suicide is the tenth most common cause of death for Americans and the second most common cause of death among people ages 10 to 34, according to the CDC. Las Lomas has tried increase access to suicide prevention by also putting the National Suicide Prevention Hotline’s phone number on the back of student IDs. This bill is likely to affect students because of so many high school students experience the effects of anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Due to anxiety’s widespread effects on youth, students need the Wellness Center. “I think we’re doing quite a lot,” said Stanton. “Sometimes it’s overbearing because there’s a huge need for it.” The hope for this new legislation is that students will have more access to suicide prevention services outside of school and will no longer depend on the school for resources, thus allowing them to focus on learning.