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
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
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
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
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
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
"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. ▪