Gus Bilirakis, Scott Peters Get School Suicide Prevention Bill Across the Finish Line in Congress
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., were able to get their “Suicide and Threat Assessment Nationally Dedicated to Universal Prevention (STANDUP) Act,” a proposal to “encourage schools to implement evidence-based suicide prevention training for students in grades 6 through 12,” through Congress.
The House passed the bill on a voice vote back in May and the U.S. Senate passed it in February.
Peters first introduced the bill in June 2020 and the House passed the measure on a voice vote in September 2020. However, the Senate did not clear the companion bill championed by then U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Col.
At the end of January 2021, Peters and Bilirakis brought the bill back. More than a dozen members of the House, including U.S. Reps. Val Demings, D-Fla., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., co-sponsored the proposal. This week the Senate passed the measure from U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, which was co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, without opposition.
“The bill requires states, schools and tribes to implement common sense, evidence-based policies to prevent suicides in order to receive Project AWARE grants, which boost youth mental health awareness among schools and communities. The bill applies to grades 6 through 12, and would equip teachers, administrators and students with the skills they need to identify, intervene and get help for people who are at risk of harming themselves or others,” noted Peters’ office when he first introduced it.
The congressmen insisted their bill is needed more than ever due to the current pandemic.
“While studies are ongoing, new reports indicate that COVID-19 has exacerbated children’s and teens’ anxiety, depression and isolation – stressors commonly associated with suicide. Mental Health America recently identified that those 11 through 17 years old are now at higher risk of anxiety and depression. Their summer youth screening revealed a 14 percent increase in youth anxiety and a 10 percent increase in youth depression since their previous report. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released 2020 data showing a 31 percent increase in mental health-related hospital visits in children aged 12-17 years compared to previous years,” Bilirakis’ office noted.
“Among the alarming mental health challenges facing the nation’s youth, recent trends in suicidal ideation, self-harm, and violence are cause for particular concern. The good news is that our STANDUP Act, once signed into law, will help equip students and educators with skills necessary to identify, intervene, and get help for those at risk of harming themselves or others,” said Peters. “I want to thank my congressional partners – Representative Bilirakis and Senators Hassan and Ernst – and Sandy Hook Promise, who helped push this life-saving effort across the finish line. We all want our kids to have a safe, inclusive learning community and know this legislation will help achieve that goal.”
“There is no higher priority than keeping our children safe. By providing high quality screening and prevention training to school staff and peers, we can identify threats before they materialize, and ensure that those who are at risk get the mental health treatment they need, said Bilirakis. I’ve seen first-hand how effective these programs can be when I visited a high school in Pinellas which has already implemented these best practices. Sadly, some communities in my district are among those with the highest suicide rates in our state, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. By sending the STANDUP Act to the President for signature, we can better implement this training and begin to reverse these troubling trends of youth suicide and violence.”
More than 50 groups, including Sandy Hook Promise, backed the proposal which is now headed to President Joe Biden’s desk.