Government News
Congress Hopes Grants Will Lower Youth Suicide Rate
Psychiatric News
Volume 39 Number 19 page 9-9

Congress passed bipartisan legislation during Suicide Prevention Week (September 5 to 11) with the goal of reducing the high rate of suicide among children and adolescents.

"Suicide is a major national problem, and APA strongly supports congressional efforts to address it," said Nicholas Meyers, director of the Department of Government Relations, in a recent Action Alert to APA members.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among children and young people between the ages of 10 and 24. Only accidental injuries and homicides have higher death rates among this population, according to the bill, titled the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (S 2634).

The suicide rate for children between ages 10 and 14 rose 109 percent between 1980 and 1997, suggesting that younger children are experiencing significant mental health problems and emotional distress, the bill states.

Since his son Garrett Lee Smith committed suicide last year, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) has talked publicly about the tragedy and has dedicated himself to ensuring that Congress passed suicide prevention bills this year.

If President George W. Bush signs the bill into law, as expected, Congress would be authorized to give $82 million in grants over three years to states, Indian tribes, and colleges and universities to develop youth suicide prevention and intervention strategies.

The bill calls for early mental health screening of children, treatment referrals, training for community child-care professionals, and the establishment of the Youth Interagency Research, Training, and Technical Assistance Center.

Meyers commented that the omnibus suicide prevention legislation combines separate APA-supported bills introduced earlier this year. The Campus Care and Counseling Act (S 2215/HR 3593) passed the Senate in July, while the Youth Suicide Early Intervention and Prevention Expansion Act of 2004 (S 2175/HR 4557) remained in committee in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Meyers praised Smith and his allies including Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), John Reed (D-R.I.), and Michael DeWine (R-Ohio) for "their tireless efforts to move the omnibus bill through the House and Senate."

A contentious amendment added to the House bill nearly brought the senators' efforts to a standstill. The provision, opposed by APA, the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA (SPAN USA), and the American Psychological Association, requires elementary and secondary schools that sponsor suicide prevention programs to notify students' parents and obtain their consent before their children can participate, a SPAN USA press release states.

The only exception to the parental-consent requirement is when the student's life is in danger.

APA and other organizations concerned with mental health eventually concluded that the benefits of passing the legislation outweighed their concerns about the parental-consent amendment, according to the press release.

"Ultimately, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act represents an important step forward in raising public awareness about suicide and in assisting states and communities with federally funded grants and technical assistance in their efforts to reduce suicide," Meyers said.

Information about SPAN USA is posted online at<www.spanusa.org>. The text of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act can be accessed at<http://thomas.loc.gov> by searching on the bill number, S 2634.

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