Using the power of law to prevent tragedy should be every state legislature’s goal. New Jersey lawmakers are doing just that by working to better train school teachers in suicide prevention.
Although work toward prevention is good news, it is the result of past sorrow — specifically, from an increase in teen suicide. The lawmakers believe that the unfortunate trend is connected to the cyberbullying that comes with advanced technology. The proposal would require public school teachers to receive two hours of suicide prevention training from a health care professional every year, rather than every five years as the law currently mandates.
We applaud the bipartisan New Jersey initiative and hope that other states will take similar action to ensure that teachers are well equipped to recognize and prevent tragedy.
High school is not only an academic environment — perhaps, even more so, it is a social scene in which teens deal daily with academic and social pressures. As we know, despite all of the conveniences technology brings us, it brings negative consequences as well. Cyberbullying and any mistreatment of teens by their peers through technology makes it more difficult for teachers to recognize when a student may be suicidal. In the United States, eight out of every 100,000 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 commit suicide, making it the third leading cause of death among our nation’s youth, behind unintentional injury and homicide.
Therefore, government or school initiatives that mandate suicide prevention training for students should include extensive training in understanding depression — after all, around 90 percent of teens who commit suicide suffer from depression. Teachers should thus not only be able to recognize signs of depression, but also effectively communicate the seriousness of depression to students. If teachers could do this, then ideally students could go through school in a more pleasant and enriching social environment.
Additionally, if students better understood how their negative actions affected others, as teachers could more clearly communicate, then students would bully each other less than if they did not possess such knowledge. That said, it would be naive for us to believe that these programs could completely eliminate bullying. However, teachers could help by passing their own training onto students by taking time to address depression and bullying. Teachers could even devote just a few classes out of the year to depression and bullying education, as well as offer individual advice to each student on how to seek help in dealing with depression and bullying. Thus, students would possess the resources to more frequently recognize, report or intervene when bullying happens, ensuring their safety and the safety of others.
Overall, governments and school districts have a responsibility to train teachers not only as academic educators but as social stewards as well. Suicide prevention is a serious matter. Let’s hope more states treat it as one.