CALEDONIA TOWNSHIP, Mich., (WOOD) — As students head back to class this year, they might notice a new addition to their school IDs.
Last February, Republican state Rep. Andrea Schroeder sponsored HB bill 5482, which focused on suicide prevention in teens. The bill has since been signed into law and now requires all schools in the state to print the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number on IDs for students sixth through 12th grades.
“We have definitely seen an increase in demand for mental health services and more intensified mental health services,” said Katie Dorband, who coordinates mental health services for students in Caledonia Community Schools. “We have counselors in all of our buildings and even they have been overwhelmed in their capacity in some ways.”
Dorband says after the stress brought about by the pandemic, the addition of suicide prevention resources to IDs is needed.
“Suicide is one of the leading causes of death of adolescents and it’s not uncommon for us to see all kinds of awareness about different diseases that take students life, and suicide is one of those,” Dorband said. “So, it’s extremely important for us to say this is going to present in our community and it’s not OK with us.”
While schools and mental health facilities reported an uptick in people reaching out for mental health help in 2020, the number of deaths by suicide remained about the same in Kent County compared to recent years. Mental heath advocates say they’d like to eventually see the number of suicides get to zero.
“For all of us working in suicide prevention, we are very excited for kids to have access to that phone number immediately because sometimes we’re not used to memorizing long numbers,” said Christy Buck, who is the founder of be nice. and executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. “Having that number can put (students) on the phone with someone. Research shows five minutes on the phone with someone can bring those thoughts down and actually help.”
Buck says teens are particularly at risk of self-harm because of impulsivity. She encourages parents to look for sudden changes.
“They’re spending more time in their rooms, they’re isolating themselves, they’re being secretive, they want privacy all the time. If that’s not typical of my teen, then I start a conversation with them,” Buck said.
Educators say mental health will be an important part of education going forward.
“Taking a focus on mental health is essential as we try to continue to support students because they aren’t just robots that we can program with the academics they need to be successful in life. They’re humans who need us to care for them as whole persons,” Dorband said.
The new state law will officially take effect in October.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is available at all times by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK. Those under the age of 21 can talk to a peer by calling Teen Link at 1.866.833.6546.