CHARLES CITY, Iowa - The topic of mental health and suicide, particularly in youth, has dominated the conversation across the country.
According to the Iowa-based Foundation 2, an organization that aims to connect those who are suicidal to life-saving resources, reports of suicide in teens have increased almost 200% since the 1960's.
Jenna Haglund is a social worker for Charles City Middle School, as well as at Waverly-Shell Rock. She's had students come to her if they've been contemplating suicide, with some even being hospitalized because of it.
"Between 2012 and 2018, the suicidal ideation went up 53% in students. 1 in 10 students said in 2018 within the last year that they attempted suicide. 1 in 20 thought about suicide."
While some districts have implemented such guidelines to deal with kids who have expressed or attempted suicide, there currently isn't a uniform way statewide, so she set out to create a universal protocol for districts to follow to address those students needs if they have been contemplating it, as well as those re-entering schools after a crisis, such as having an established support system. While some may think that there already is such a system in place, Haglund says that's not necessarily the case; she notes there was an effort to introduce such statewide protocol in 2018, but the legislation was withdrawn.
"'Of course, it's 2020, so protocols should already be out there, even to the point where the AEA's are writing them or somebody else is already doing it.' When I'm telling people, 'no, this is the bill, this is it', that's somewhat shocking to people that they don't realize that something's not already in place."
Helping her in the efforts is House Representative Todd Prichard, who has also seen the need to get it addressed.
"What we want, with guidance from the Iowa Department of Education and the Area Education Associations with their school districts, is to say 'what's the best practice? What are resources are available locally in terms of who are the providers we want to use, and how do we want to deal with this child?'"
Prichard introduced the bill, titled HF2120, in January. This week, the bill passed subcommittee, and then committee, and is now awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives.
Haglund and Prichard say a system like this could save lives.
"The idea is to have a plan, and to be ready and prepare to respond. Failure to plan means you should plan to fail, and we don't want to see schools do that."