Bill Aims to Give Iowa Teachers Tools to Help Prevent Student Suicide

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Iowans ages 15-34 and the third leading cause for 10-14-year-olds. Those statistics, from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, are not falling on deaf ears at the state capitol any longer.

"Many of us have been touched by suicide in the past. It's one of those disappointing things that happen in life," said Republican State Senator Craig Johnson of Buchanan County.

Legislators are hoping a bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate, can arm teachers with the tools needed to help prevent student suicides.  Democratic Senator Matt McCoy of Polk County said, "It's to help teachers be able to spot the warning signs of kids expressing behavior that might identify that they are in a bad place."

The bill still needs House approval. but would require teachers to take one hour of suicide prevention and awareness training whenever they renew their teaching license.

"They see it, they live with it, they are right there at the forefront with our students.  First to notice something if something is going on with the students," said Senator Johnson.

Iowa is currently one of 22 states without mandated suicide prevention training for teachers. There are currently 11 states that mandate the training annually and another 17 that mandate it--but not annually--similar to the proposal in Iowa where a standard teaching license is valid for five years.

McCoy said the training would help teachers "be able to spot some of the withdrawing from life, some sort of the sadness, some of the sense of not belonging, and those are things we can do."

In an era during which Republicans and Democrats have not been seeing eye-to-eye on mental health and education, legislators believe the unanimous Senate vote holds a strong meaning.

"I love the fact that it is being done with 100% bipartisan support because this is what people send us to do," said McCoy. "These kinds of bills and to work on the cooperative legislation."