House measure aims to boost suicide awareness and prevention, promote 988 Crisis Lifeline

      The Missouri House has taken time in the waning days of the session to pass a bipartisan effort to address suicide awareness and prevention.

Representative Ann Kelley (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      It sent to the Senate House Bill 2136, the “Jason Flatt/Avery Reine Cantor Act,” which would require public schools, charter schools, and public higher education institutions that print pupil identification cards to print on those cards the new three-digit number for the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 988. 

      “988 is going to be our new mental health suicide hotline beginning in July, so this is going to encourage school districts to get that out there to the public so that we can start using that,” explained the bill’s sponsor, Representative Ann Kelley (R-Lamar)

      The bill also contains provisions meant to equip and encourage pharmacists to identify possible signs of suicide and respond to them.  This includes the “Tricia Leanne Tharp Act,” sponsored by Representative Adam Schwadron (R-St. Charles).

“This would allow the Board of Pharmacy to create two continuing education credit hours for pharmacists to take, to allow them to apply that to their continuing education credits in suicide awareness and prevention,” said Schwadron.

      The bill was amended to make sure all pharmacists can participate in that continuing education, regardless of where they work.  That change was offered by Representative Patty Lewis (D-Kansas City), who said, “All licensed pharmacists, whether they work inside the four walls of the hospital in an acute care setting or in retail pharmacy [would] have the opportunity to participate in the continuing education to address suicide prevention because there’s such a great need.”

      Bolivar representative Mike Stephens (R) is a pharmacist, and said he and others in that profession are well-positioned to be able to identify and work to prevent suicide.   

Representative Patty Lewis (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I think it’s an important thing for pharmacists at every place along the way to be informed and be a part of this process, be aware.  I know in my own personal practice you have intimate contact with patients and you see them during their treatments and there are times that you feel like things aren’t as they ought to be but [you’re] not sure what sort of interventions are appropriate.  I think this will be very helpful,” said Stephens.

Similar language will allow teachers and principals to count two hours in suicide-related training toward their continuing education.

The bill advanced to the Senate 142-0 after several members spoke about their own experiences regarding suicide.

Festus Republican Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway told her colleagues that every seven hours someone commits suicide in Missouri.  It’s the tenth leading cause of death in the state and the second leading cause among those aged 10 to 34. 

“When you think about age 10 all the way up to 34 this is covering all of our children in schools and college when they first get out of school and they’re finding their first jobs or meeting someone and becoming a family, and I think that anything that we can do to bring awareness to this issue is just incredible,” said Buchheit-Courtway.  “Mental health awareness is so important to so many of us here.”

      Representative Dave Griffith (R-Jefferson City) said he knows of a 14 year-old who committed suicide two months ago, just south of the capital city.

Representative Adam Schwadron (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“He did it because he was being bullied in school and he felt there was no other way out and he couldn’t talk about it.  It became very obvious to that community the need for us to be able to talk and have some kind of tools in our hands to be able to prevent these types of tragic events,” said Griffith.  “The suicide prevention hotline number, I believe every school will put it on their cards.  There’s no reason for them not to do that.”

      Representative Rasheen Aldridge, Junior (D-St. Louis) told the body, “One of my good friends in high school, best friend … who is also between that age that the lady talked about, only in 10th grade, committed suicide … it takes a toll on loved ones, it takes a toll on friends, it takes a toll on people that love that individual and all individuals that have committed suicide.”

      The legislation stems partly from the work of the Subcommittee on Mental Health Policy Research, of which Lewis is a member and Buchheit-Courtway is the chairwoman.     

      The school-related provisions of the bill would take effect in the 2023-24 school year.

House pushes mental health awareness after death of members’ family friend

The sponsor of mental health legislation said that issue hit close to home for her on the day her bill came to the House floor.

Representative Chrissy Sommer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Charles Republican Chrissy Sommer said that during her drive to the Capitol on Monday she received the tragic news that the mother of her daughter’s best friend had committed suicide.

“You may have noticed I’m a little shaky and nervous, and the reason is because on my way here today I found out that a friend of mind committed suicide, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot,” said Sommer.  “It really struck me that this [bill] was pulled up today … because it can affect everyone.”

The House gave initial approval to House Bill 108, which would have Missouri join the federal government in making May “Mental Health Awareness Month,” and in making July “Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.”

“I’m thinking of her and I’m doing this in her honor, and I hope that we will pass it … I don’t mean to get emotional … but I hope that we will pass this not only in her honor but in the honor of everyone who has lost someone to suicide,” said Sommer.

Sommer said untreated mental health contribute to things like unemployment, disability, homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, and suicide.

“Early identification and treatment of mental illnesses have proven to be vital to any recovery process.  Stigma association with mental illness prevents many individuals from seeking the necessary treatment,” said Sommer.

The House heard that there are particular stigmas and disparities within minority communities regarding mental health.

St. Louis Democrat Bruce Franks, who speaks openly about numerous traumas in his life including seeing his brother fatally shot when they were both children, said he has contemplated suicide in the past.  He said there is a stigma in the African American community about getting help and what “mental health” is.”

Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I talk on the floor about the funerals I’ve gone through and some of the things that I’ve seen, and even a couple of my Republican colleague friends on the other side have been to my district to see some of these traumatic things, so just imagine when folks are going through this each and every day and it plays on you mentally and you never get the help that you need because the people in your community and society sees this as a stigma,” said Franks.

Franks said the legislation is “very important, and it’s not just about an awareness month.  It’s about education and empowering people to let them know it’s okay to not be okay but it’s okay to seek help.”

Jefferson City Republican Dave Griffith said he hopes raising awareness will cause more struggling veterans to get help.

“Many of you may not have heard ‘hashtag-22.’  Hashtag-22 stands for the 22 veterans that commit suicide every day.  It is for real.  These men and women are suffering from PTSD and from many other mental illnesses and having a day or a month that we can recognize them is something that I stand for,” said Griffith.

“The perception of mental illness won’t change unless we act on it, and one way to do this is for us in Missouri to enact the Mental Health Awareness Month,” said Sommer.

With the House’s action on Monday, one more favorable vote would send HB 108 to the Senate.