More suicide prevention funding could be available to school districts across the state if a bill pending in the Colorado Senate is approved.
State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and two other lawmakers are sponsoring HB 18-1416, which would create a new grant program to support suicide prevention programs. The measure was approved by the House in late April and will next be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
La Plata County has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the state, and several local groups are working on prevention efforts, including Durango School District 9-R, San Juan Basin Public Health and Communities Overcoming Depressed Youth (also known as The CODY Project).
In Montezuma County, no teen suicides have been reported this year, but Coroner George Deavers said suicides are on the rise. Seven were reported by April 5, compared with three by the same time in 2017. Victims’ ages varied widely, with one in the 20s, two in the 30s, two in the 50s, one in the 40s, one in the 60s and one in the 80s.
Cortez and Dolores schools have made suicide prevention a priority after the deaths of two juveniles in fall 2016. Montezuma-Cortez High School hosted a suicide prevention summit last fall, and Dolores Schools hired two social workers for the 2017-2018 school year to help address students’ mental health.
Health department spokeswoman Claire Ninde said additional state funding for suicide prevention would be welcome.
“Kids spend most of their waking time in school, and it is important that schools have the resources to support positive social-emotional development,” she said.
The bill would set aside $507,488 for the grant program in the 2018-19 fiscal year. Funding could come from the $35 million the state has already set aside to fund school safety initiatives, McLachlan said.
“We see this as part of school safety – to address suicidal tendencies and mental health issues,” she said.
She expects the bill will pass this session because it has received bipartisan backing.
If it passed, school districts could apply for grants between $5,000 to $10,000 for suicide prevention training, the draft bill states.
Districts would be required to train all staff who have contact with students on how to identify whether students or adults are at risk of suicide and how to refer them to treatment, the bill states.
The bill would also provide funding for students to learn resiliency, self awareness and problem-solving skills.
“What we’re advocating is that kids would be given life-skills training that would help them deal with things like peer pressure, bullying, sexting,” said Susan Marine, advocacy chair with Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado.
She would like to see more funding available to rural schools, because children who grow up in rural areas are twice as likely to die by suicide than their urban and suburban peers, she said.