As Ohio kids head back to school, the adults they interact with in school will have new training under a law that’s designed to stop teen suicide.
“If we do this and save one young person’s life, it’ll be worth everything.”
Clark Flatt of Hendersonville, Tennessee, set out to make that his goal with the foundation he established in memory of his son Jason, who killed himself in 1997. Flatt’s Jason Foundation has pushed for laws in 12 states to fight teen suicide. Ohio passed the Jason Flatt Act last March, but this is the first full school year it will be in effect. And Attorney General Mike DeWine says it’s needed.
“The Center for Disease Control tells us that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in Ohio between the age of 15 and 24. Nearly one out of seven had seriously considered suicide – one out of seven. More than out of 11 had actually attempted suicide,” says DeWine.
Ohio’s Youth Silent Epidemic Law requires school boards to incorporate youth suicide awareness and prevention training into their existing in-service training requirements for teachers, coaches and other school personnel. Schools can use materials provided free by the Jason Foundation or by any other similar group, and are not required to spend any extra time or additional money on the materials or training. The law was sponsored in Ohio by Republican Rep. Marlene Anielski of Independence in suburban Cleveland to honor her son Joseph, who took his life in March of 2010. She says it will go a long way to doing one specific thing – making it ok to talk about teen suicide.
“I know when I lost my son Joe, people asked, ‘oh, how did he pass?’ and as soon you say that, because I’m not going to hide it, you can see, ‘oh’, you know, and the conversation usually stops. So first of all, we need to break down the barriers of the stigma,” says Anielski.
Watching the press conference from the back of the room was 17 year old Kevin Stankowitz of Brunswick, who says Joe Anielski was like a big brother to him. He says the stats and the stigma seem on target based on his experiences at a leadership camp this summer.
“So many kids, mind-boggling amounts of other campers had said, you know, I’ve tried suicide – one was eight times. It was incredible. And I was able to get on that topic because of Joe,” says Stankowitz.
Stankowitz says he wears a bracelet in memory of Joe every day. Stankowitz says he’s not sure what might drive teens to suicidal behavior, but he’s certain that not being able to talk openly to others about their problems is a major concern. Surprisingly, though, one thing Clark Flatt says doesn’t seem to be a contributing factor in most teen suicides is bullying, though bullying has been cited in several reports of teen suicide cases in Ohio and elsewhere.
“It does elevate the risk factor. But by far, I’ve not seen any – and we do a lot with research – I’ve not seen anything that says the majority of young people that are lost are lost because of bullying. But now, we do need to address that,” says Flatt.
Stats show nationwide, 100 teens are lost each week to suicide. And 80%offer what experts say are clear signals that they’re considering taking their lives. So Flatt and Anielski say this training will help school leaders notice those warning signs and respond to them before it’s too late.