A bill before the Nebraska Legislature would require annual suicide prevention training to help public school personnel pick up on warning signs among teenagers. It's a sensible proposal that can help deal with a troubling social need.
Iowa is already pursuing such a course. That requirement is one of the state's responses to a series of teen suicides in 2012 in which 32 Iowa teens took their own lives.
This issue also is a concern in Douglas County, given the findings in a survey last year of students at 16 public high schools here.
Nationally and statewide in Nebraska, just under 8 percent of high school students responding to surveys say they attempted suicide over the previous year. But a survey of Douglas County high school students last year showed a higher number here: about 12.5 percent.
Similarly, more than 6 percent of the Douglas County students surveyed said they needed medical attention after a suicide attempt. The statewide figure in Nebraska is 2.6 percent and nationally, 2.4 percent.
After the survey came out, public health and school leaders in Douglas County pointed to the results in calling for a greater focus on suicide prevention for young people.
This is also an issue of focus for Nebraska's Native American community. The Omaha Tribe in northeastern Nebraska, for example, has received grant funding to tackle teen suicide concerns through an evidence-based program called Project HOPE.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teenagers in both Nebraska and Iowa, according to the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Iowa Department of Public Health. Between 2004 and 2008, suicide took the lives of about 150 Nebraskans aged 15 to 24. During that period, more than 3,000 were treated in hospitals due to self-harm or attempted suicide.
The current proposal before the Legislature is Legislative Bill 923, sponsored by Sen. Amanda McGill. Under it, an hour of suicide prevention training would be included as part of the annual in-service training for Nebraska public school personnel, including teachers, counselors and nurses.
The practicality of McGill's bill is shown by the fact that it is supported by the Nebraska State Education Association, the Nebraska School Nurses Association and the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition.
The committee hearing for the legislation explained that some Nebraska school districts such as Grand Island and South Sioux City have done a good job of incorporating this component in their annual in-service training. McGill's bill would standardize such training statewide.
As we've noted before, Nebraska has made a measure of progress on this issue in recent years. Momentum came from a 2010 conference in which a wide array of institutions in Nebraska joined together to address the issue, using a three-year federal grant.
From that effort, around 4,000 Nebraskans in schools, law enforcement and other professions have been trained in suicide awareness techniques. Nebraska now has a well-done youth suicide prevention website (http://youthsuicideprevention.nebraska.edu/). The Kim Foundation and the state suicide prevention coalition provided a toolkit to Nebraska high schools.
This new legislation is a worthy addition to such efforts.
The legislative hearing included testimony from men and women who have lost their loved ones to suicide. As those Nebraskans spoke of the loss of a daughter or a sister, the terrible magnitude of their loss was made clear.
More progress can be made if Nebraska and Iowa step up their efforts and do their best to save families from such heartache.