Stewart bill would require universities to promote awareness of suicide prevention services

ST. GEORGE — Raising public awareness of suicide prevention resources available to college students is the subject of a bipartisan bill introduced Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart.

U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks during a town hall meeting at the St. George city offices, St. George, Utah, Feb. 19, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. J. Luis Correa, D-California, H.R. 3192, the Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act, aims to require colleges and universities to provide contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line and a campus mental health center on student identification cards, according to a press release from Stewart’s office.

For colleges and universities that do not provide identification cards to their students, schools must ensure that the information is available on their website.

“A loss of life at any age is tragic, but it is especially heartbreaking losing students at such an exciting and pivotal time in their lives,” Stewart said in a statement. “This bill will make existing critical resources more visible for those in crisis and improve mental health across college campuses.”

A primary goal of the bill is to make sure the information on preventive resources is on something the students will see every day.

St. George News spoke with Stewart Tuesday and asked if he felt there was a lack of suicide prevention services on university and college campuses in general.

Read more: Dixie State shares powerful message on suicide, mental health with emotional music video

“There’s not a lack of ability but a lack of awareness, which this (bill) is trying to address,” the Utah Republican said. “We’re hoping to make that information more available.”

Universities and colleges appear to be sensitive to the issue of suicide, he said, as suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 24 nationwide, and the leading cause of death for the same age range in Utah.

It is also the leading cause of death for Utah students ages 10 to 17, according to the Utah Health Department.

In 2017, there were more than 47,000 suicides nationwide, making it the 10th-leading cause of death.

“Too many of our young people are taking their own lives, and we must act,” Correa said in a statement Tuesday. “By adding crucial suicide prevention information to Student I.D.s and college websites, we can ensure at-risk students have options. I am grateful to my colleagues for stepping up and addressing suicide amongst our youth. Every young person deserves a future. We must do everything we can to ensure they get one.”

In addition to the House of Representatives, a companion bill is being sponsored in the Senate by Sens. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, and Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah had the 5th highest age-adjusted suicide rate in the nation from 2015 to 2017. The national average for death by suicide in 2016 was 12.6 per 10,000, while in Utah it was 21.6 per 10,000.

“Suicide is a major public health problem,” Stewart’s office stated in the press release. “Providing information on existing suicide prevention resources can help students experiencing suicidal thoughts or emotional distress and potentially save lives.”

Stewart has been involved in national suicide prevention efforts, including getting legislation passed last year that creates a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline. The hotline, which gets callers in touch with local counselors and related resources, is easier to remember in a time of crisis over the current nine-digit one.

Read more: President Trump signs Hatch, Stewart’s national 3-digit suicide prevention hotline bill

The process of implementing the three-digit line is still in the works as an initial recommendation by the Federal Communications Commission on how the system would work wasn’t favored by Congress.

“We are still making progress, but like anything in the federal government, it can take time,” Stewart said.

Resources

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.