Police, students advocate for legislation to curb suicide 'crisis' in schools

Student mental health advocates at the Minnesota State Capitol argued for increased resources in classrooms Monday.

The advocates threw their support behind legislation that would help curb student suicides. Sen. Chuck Wiger, of Maplewood, called the issue a “crisis.”

“How many suicides is it going to take?” he asked.

The first would require all Minnesota school teachers to receive suicide prevention training when they renew their licenses. The licensing board would have to institute best training practices.

“Teachers are asking for this,” said Rep. Cheryl Youakim, of Hopkins. “They’re facing this in the classroom every day.”

The second bill would create a brand new position at the Department of Education called the Director of Mental Health Services. That person would work with all districts on a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to preventing teen suicides.

“To say this is a problem is an understatement,” said Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany, who is on board with the proposed changes.

His community is reeling this year with half a dozen students in local schools dying by suicide.

He and the other supporters also pointed to what they described as a downward trend in the mental well-being of today’s youth, who often can’t find separation between problems at home and at school because of nonstop social media.

Their message is that help is needed now.

“Unfortunately, this is not a police problem,” said Podany. “This isn’t a school problem. This isn’t a home problem. A lot of times, problems at home are part of the problem in general. This is a societal problem. This is something that affects all of us.”

The two pieces of legislation will get a public hearing Tuesday evening at the capitol in front of the House Education Policy Committee.