Just two months ago, the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. was shook by the suicide of a 15-year-old at Central High School.
In the days that followed, community members struggled to make sense of the tragedy.
“This has been a horrific time in Evansville, and unfortunately this is not the first time that communities around Evansville or in Evansville itself have had these kind of horrific incidents,” EVSC Superintendent David Smith said in a news conference days later. “Let’s hope and pray it can be the last.”
On Wednesday, others shared their stories of suicide attempts and losses of loved ones in an Indiana Senate committee meeting, supporting a move from lawmakers to step up suicide prevention.
If passed, House Bill 1430 would require Indiana schools to provide at least two hours of suicide prevention every two years to those who have direct contact with students in grades 7-12.
Already, schools are required to provide new teachers with this training.
It’s a move advocates say could help teachers know how to spot warning signs and react.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for those ages 15-24 in Indiana, and the state has consistently struggled with high numbers. In that age group, 119 people died by suicide in 2014, according to a recent report from the Indiana Youth Institute.
Indiana ranks second out of 34 states surveyed in the percentage of high school students who’ve made a suicide plan, and third in the percentage of high school students who seriously considered it.
In the same report released a year earlier, Indiana had the highest rate of teens who’ve considered suicide.
For some, the solution to the answer seems to be those who spend the most
time with students: teachers.
Mindi Goodpaster, the public policy and advocacy director for MCCOY — the Marion County Commission on Youth, said teachers need to know how to respond if a student tells them they or someone else is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“Your response is critical and if you don’t know how to handle it appropriately, you could make the situation potentially worse,” Goodpaster said. “And what do you do if a student or staff member in your school dies by suicide? How do you handle that and how do you handle the grief that is experienced by the students in that school? Your response as a school could be critical to preventing more suicides.”
Danielle Green from West Lafayette echoed those sentiments as she showed a picture of her daughter to lawmakers Wednesday. Her daughter died by suicide when she was 13, because of bullying.
“Nothing helped her, because nobody was trained enough to help her,” her mother said. “What can our teachers do if they’re not trained properly?”
The Senate passed another partner bill dealing with suicide prevention, Senate
Bill 506, which would create a statewide suicide prevention program and employ a coordinator of the program.
Multiple groups already have programs available to train teachers about suicide prevention, such as The Jason Foundation, the QPR Institute and ASIST.
EVSC has been training staff for the last two years on suicide prevention and spokesman Jason Woebkenberg said they’re always evaluating their tactics.
While representatives from both the Indiana State Teachers Association and Indiana Non-Public Education Association support the bills, they did have concerns about putting more responsibilities on teachers.
“It seems like we’ve found a simple formula when we have a serious issue: we create a law and we then pass the responsibility onto schools,” said John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association. “I think our principals are starting to drown in all of those responsibilities, and I don’t know what the magic answer is because these are very, very important issues that need to be addressed.”