Mandatory mental health curriculum

Mental health
Mental health(Source: Associated Press)
Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 3:53 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - North Dakota has the ninth highest rate of teen suicide in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation.

To save lives and bring rates down, state lawmakers are pushing a bill that would mandate mental health and wellness for middle and high school students.

Some schools already have elements of mental wellness in the classroom, but North Dakota’s rates of teen suicide remain well above the national average.

Not only would students have mandatory resources to help them, but the schools would be given standards on how to handle teens that need help.

It was an emotional day at the Capitol as survivors of teen suicide came to tell their stories.

Saying the bill is their story.

Kennedy Gjovik said her first attempt at suicide was in middle school.

“I had all the warning signs, but no one noticed. Or even if they did notice, no one spoke up. And after getting that message, I decided I was done fighting. That night, I made my first suicide attempt, and was the first time I had ever hanged myself,” Gjovik said.

After many attempts at taking her own life, Gjovik said it wasn’t until she switched schools that she started getting substantial help.

It’s that disparity that lawmakers are trying to resolve.

“We can do this, but we don’t have boots in the field to provide the instruction or the interventions that are needed. And until we do that, we can’t move this forward,” said Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford.

According to a 2019 state survey, the percentage of North Dakota students considering suicide has nearly doubled. The percentage of students attempting suicide has more than doubled. But the signs of depression can come well before the teenage years.

“The instances of it are frighteningly becoming younger. And with those younger kiddos, a lot of times it’s not what you think. You don’t see it coming in the traditional ways. Kids are just having earlier struggles,” said Dr. Aimee Copas, ND Council of Educational Leaders.

The bill also allows for school districts to collaborate in the classroom and with distance learning so that rural schools can get help to their students.

Not too long ago, the legislature approved a bill that required schools to have a counselor to connect students to resources if needed.

But lawmakers are saying it’s not enough.

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