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