Rep. Gilbert’s suicide-prevention bill unanimously endorsed by panel

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

March 26th, 2013 

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Maine State Capitol. photo by Ramona du Houx

Rep. Paul Gilbert’s youth suicide-prevention bill won the unanimous support of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

“I can’t imagine anything bigger than saving a kid’s life,” said Rep. Gilbert said after the work session on the bill.

The bill requires suicide prevention awareness for all school personnel and more advanced training that includes prevention education for some employees. The size of the school district would determine the number of employees who undergo advanced training.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death of Mainers 24 and younger, according to the Maine Suicide Prevention Program, an initiative of several state agencies. Survey data from the state Center for Disease Control reveals that nearly 13 percent of high school seniors in Maine seriously considered suicide, more than 9 percent planned their suicide and almost 8 percent attempted suicide.

Impassioned testimony was heard in support of the bill.

“I think it’s time that we don’t view this in light of other education issues,” said Sen. Chris Johnson, of Somerville. “This is a matter of life or death so our young people can live out their adult lives and fulfill the expectations of everyone.”

Sen. Brian Langley lost his younger brother to suicide and two students he taught when he was a teacher.

“It’s just pretty rough,” said Sen. Langley. “One of the students I might have suspected. The other one, that was really tough. If we’re better aware of what those signs are, we might be able to pick up on one of them.”

Rep. Gilbert refereed to his bill as the top priority of his legislative career. “If I’m remember for anything, I hope this bill is it.”

Gilbert expressed thanks to the committee, which unanimously recommended to the full Legislature that the bill ought to pass as amended. The amendment is a technical one that addresses the rule-making process.

Gilbert met Mainers who had lost loved ones to suicide through his constituent outreach work. He developed the legislation through consultation with them, others involved in suicide prevention and various stakeholders.

The bill would build upon efforts already taking place. MSPP has already conducted more than 800 suicide prevention trainings, including advanced prevention, in Maine schools.

The bill now goes to the full Legislature.

Gilbert is serving his third term in the Maine House of Representatives and represents Jay, New Sharon, Chesterville, Mercer and Starks.