In response to staggering rates of suicide attempts by young New Yorkers — especially LGBTQ youth — state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would direct schools to implement a broad policy aimed at preventing student suicide and assisting those who are grieving the loss of somebody close to them due to suicide.
The Trevor Project worked with out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan and Assemblymember Joseph Lentol of Brooklyn on crafting the legislation, which was proposed in both houses on January 16. The bill is specifically aimed at schools serving students in grades seven through 12.
“School districts that adopt a comprehensive suicide prevention policy will be taking the first step in ensuring that teachers, students, and parents alike have direct resources through their schools to help students in crisis and prevent suicide,” Sam Brinton, who heads up advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a written statement. “In the last year alone, The Trevor Project responded to over 6,000 calls/ chats/ texts from LGBTQ youth in New York who reached out for support.”
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17.4 percent of New York State high school students in 2017 seriously considered suicide and it ranks as the second-highest cause of death nationwide among individuals between the ages of 10 and 24.
A 2019 national survey administered by The Trevor Project found that suicide numbers are even more concerning among queer youth, especially those who are transgender or gender non-binary. That survey found that while 18 percent of LGBTQ respondents attempted suicide within the last 12 months, 29 percent of trans and non-binary respondents attempted suicide.
Yet, at least one-third of schools in the state lack a policy geared toward suicide prevention.
“There’s a mental health crisis happening in our schools: in recent years, nearly 4,500 kids visited an emergency department in New York for self-harm,” Hoylman said in a written statement. “We have a solemn responsibility to help these students – especially the students in high-risk groups, like LGBTQ youth.”
The bill borrows elements of the Model School Policy on Suicide Prevention, which was created by the suicide prevention experts from the Trevor Project, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and other organizations. That policy sets teacher-training guidelines, provides mental health-related instruction for students, and incorporates policies related to suicide prevention and intervention.
The bill states that the policies, procedures, and guidelines adopted in accordance with the legislation should specifically address the needs of LGBTQ youth, youth who have lost a friend or family member to suicide, youth with disabilities or chronic health conditions such as mental health or substance use conditions, and youth experiencing homelessness.
The bill also calls for the policies to be made in consultation with school and community stakeholders, school-employed mental health professionals, and suicide prevention experts.
“We must do more to put an emphasis on mental health treatment and suicide prevention,” Lentol said. “The Student Suicide Prevention Act will help to save lives, especially those who are high-risk, including LGBTQ and homeless youth.”
Should it pass, the legislation would follow similar laws passed in California, Nevada, and Utah.