Rep. Lewis Re-Files Legislation To Support Student Mental Health Hotline

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FRAMINGHAM – Yesterday, January 27 Representatives Jack Patrick Lewis (Framingham) and Natalie Higgins (Leominster) filed HD.676 and Senator Jo Comerford (Northampton) filed SD.298, An Act Supporting Student Mental Health.

A refile from last session, this bill would require that newly printed Student ID cards include the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, the Crisis Text Line number, and the local campus security or non-emergency number.

While suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for people of all ages in the United States, young people are particularly at risk. According to a study published by the National Center for Health Statistics at the end of last year, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Americans age 15-24, representing a 56% increase in the last decade. [1] There are significant disparities in these numbers, with LGBTQ+ youth being at greater risk, and Black youth seeing a 73% increase in youth suicide rates in that same time period.

“We must ensure that every student has the information at their fingertips to get the support and resources they need,” said Rep. Lewis. “It can be hard to reach out, especially during these times of limited in-person interactions, which is why these IDs are so essential.”

If passed, this bill would require every school district, as well as public and private higher education institutions in the state, to print the Suicide Prevention Hotline, Crisis Textline, and the schools’ campus security or local non-emergency number on the backs of all future student identification cards. That way, everywhere they go, young people have access to life-saving resources.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with Rep. Lewis and Senator Comerford on this important legislation this session,” said Rep. Natalie Higgins. “Now more than ever, we need to equip our students with the tools to access vital mental health resources and to prevent suicide,” Rep. Higgins added.

“Students sometimes do not know about school-based support, perceive them as difficult to access, or are concerned about stigma that may follow if school employees know they are struggling. Putting crisis phone numbers on the back of ID cards would ensure that every student is aware of mfree, confidential resources available to them at any time,” added Sen. Comerford.

“We are proud to support HD.676 and SD.298 through our Call2Talk program. Because of the multi-tiered levels of isolation and anxiety our youth face every day, currently exacerbated by the pandemic, this bill could not be more timely. In the face of devastating and unimaginable losses and despair our youth are now dealing with, this bill will help to provide hope and help,” said Eileen Davis, the Vice President of Call2Talk.

“Having access to suicide prevention numbers on student ID cards will help offset waiting time to talk to someone while in crisis,” added Kim Comatas, former president of the Framingham Town Wide PTO. “In a time when school districts are feeling budget crunches to hire additional mental health support and wait time for therapy is long, this literal lifesaving legislation gets information to students across the Commonwealth, in an instant, confidential, no cost to them, easy to access manner.”

Similar legislation has passed in several other states, including by unanimous vote in California in 2019 and most recently in Wisconsin in March 2020. Schools in Massachusetts, such as Ashland High School and Saint John’s High School in Shrewsbury have already implemented this policy, and the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents supports this legislation.

“As a high school student and someone who has lost a friend to suicide, I can attest that it is a crucial time to raise awareness and expand access to mental health resources, added Carson Domey, junior at Saint John’s High School. “In 2019 I approached the administration at my school, Saint John’s High School, to propose to add the National Suicide Prevention Hotline to the back of student identification cards. This serves as a cost-effective way to remind students that there is always help available, no matter the time of day and that you are never alone.”

“With the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating a number of the social, mental, and physical risk factors for suicidality, in addition to reducing contact with support networks outside the home, this bill is more pressing than ever,” said Representative Lewis.

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