Law requires all school staff to be trained in suicide prevention

6:37 PM, Apr 26, 2013   |    comments
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(NEWS CENTER) -- Advocates for youth suicide prevention are praising a unanimous vote by the legislature Thursday. Over the next two years, every person who works at a school must receive some training on youth suicide prevention. And at least two people at the school must have in-depth training. Governor LePage signed the bill as soon as it reached his desk.

It was the brainchild of two Maine moms who know all too well what happens when the warning signs of suicide are missed.

Grace Eaton lost her son to suicide in 1997. "His friends afterwards had come up to me about it and well he said he was going to kill himself, but I didn't think he would... Educating people is so important," she said.

After her son's death, Eaton became a counselor in the Livermore school system. She knows she and others in the district have saved lives because they've been trained in suicide prevention. Eaton said, "When a parent says they're just crying out for attention, I have no hesitation saying, 'Would you rather them get their attention? Or would you rather have them take their life.'"

8 years ago, Eaton became friends with Nancy Thompson. Thompson's son, Timmy, had recently become a suicide victim.
Timmy, too, was a great kid with lots of friends, and no one knew how much he was hurting.

Thompson said, "They said, 'Timmy was my best friend. If i'd only known. If i'd known the warning signs, maybe I could have helped.'"

Both women believe education is the key to suicide prevention, and their dream to train every school staff person in the state became action when Eaton met her state representative, Paul Gilbert. A few months earlier, Rep. Gilbert had attended the wake of a young suicide victim who went to the University of Southern Maine. It was a young man he watched grow up.

"I went to his wake and it was so emotional for me, I couldn't stay there," Rep. Gilbert said. "No bill that I have worked on has meant more to me than this one."

The only challenge for the bill was its cost. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has been providing grant-funded suicide prevention training for Maine schools for about 10 years. 35 districts have completed it. Rep. Gilbert says it's expected to cost about $44,000 to train the other districts in the state, and this bill is an unfunded mandate. But it faced no opposition from the Maine Principal's Association or the Maine Education Association.

Thompson and Eaton were there when the bill unanimously passed both houses of the legislature. Thompson said, "Grace and I were up in the gallery. And I grabbed her hand. And I said, 'We did it! We did it!' But it wasn't just us. All the other suicide survivors who have lost loved ones, that have worked hard, NAMI Maine and Maine Suicide Prevention program, all the people who have supported us to get us to where we've gotten to today."

According to NAMI Maine, these are some of the warning signs for suicide:

-- Someone making statements or threats about suicide
-- Someone communicating intent to take their live
-- Seeking the means to act or tying up elements of their life.
-- Significant changes in behavior that include, 
        High anxiety or agitation 
        Feeling hopeless or without purpose in life 
        Recklessness that communicates not caring what happens. 
        Withdrawal from people and activities that were important

For help or even to ask what response would be appropriate, call the Maine Crisis Line at 1 (888) 568-1112. If someone is in immediate risk, has a weapon or refuses help, call 911. 

The Maine Suicide Prevention Program also provides a number of resources for parents who want to learn more about youth suicide prevention. Click here to learn more.

And The Parents Trauma Resource Center offers these tips on how to answer questions teens ask about suicide.


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