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Emanuel Cleaver

10/27/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/27/2021 14:22

Rep. Cleaver Introduces Legislation to Combat Youth Suicide

(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), member of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, introduced the Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas Student Suicide Prevention Act. Named in honor of Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas, two students from the Kansas City region who were tragically victims of suicide, the bipartisan legislation aims to combat youth suicide by providing schools, teachers, and students nationwide with evidence-informed suicide prevention strategies and tools to assist at-risk youth.

"There is nothing more tragic than a child who feels so alone and in pain that they fall victim to suicide, yet, sadly, suicide remains the second-leading cause of death for America's youth," said Congressman Cleaver. "From all accounts, Gemesha Thomas and Cady Housh were beloved by their friends and family and valued members of their communities. Painfully, because our elementary and secondary schools are severely under-equipped with the knowledge, tools, and resources needed to care for children dealing with mental health challenges, they were taken from us far too soon. With this bill, in memory of Cady and Gemesha, Congress can provide the funding and expertise necessary to ensure that every child has access to the mental health resources needed to overcome trauma, anxiety, or depression. Additionally, we can help teachers and students understand the signs and clues that suggest someone may be contemplating suicide, so that they can intervene and get kids the help they need in a moment of crisis. I think that is a cause worthy of Congress's consideration, and I hope my colleagues will too."

"Our students are facing unprecedented trauma and anxiety, and tragically, more and more are taking their own lives. As educators, school staff, counselors and nurses, we see first-hand when a child is struggling, and know creating safe and welcoming school environments is a critical piece of meeting kids' social and emotional needs, and treating mental health issues before they become crises. Rep. Cleaver's bill to help educators access the tools they need to do just that, providing grants for early intervention and suicide prevention training so educators and school staff can recognize signs of distress and step in. It also expands the list of at-risk student populations and broadens the range of mental health services available to students, so our most vulnerable kids-particularly our LGBTQ youth-know they can get help at school not just for math and reading, but for emotional wellbeing too," said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.

"American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) commends Representative Cleaver for leading legislation to help reduce youth suicide," said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Senior Vice President for Public Policy, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "The Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas Student Suicide Prevention Act increases access to suicide prevention training resources in elementary and secondary schools. Youth suicide can be prevented through early detection of at-risk students who may be in crisis or struggling with their mental health and connecting those students and their families to resources and treatment services."

"The Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas Student Suicide Prevention Act is legislation that is critically important to the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same-gender loving (LGBTQ+/SGL) community," said Victoria Kirby York, the Deputy Executive Director of the National Black Justice coalition. "The Trevor Project reports that 21% of Black LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in the past. And, according to the Ring the Alarm Report we co-produced with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the suicide death rate among Black youth is increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group. Black LGBTQ+/SGL youth live at the intersection of marginalized and often excluded identities, which compounds the mental health struggles they experience. Supporting the Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas Student Suicide Prevention Act is the next step in NBJC's partnership with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in addressing the issue of youth suicide. This bill would provide the support our youth desperately needs by expanding the list of at-risk populations to include minority and LGBTQ+ students and fund training for elementary and secondary school staff in mental health and suicide prevention. I think of Nigel Shelby, a Black gay 15-year-old who died by suicide due to homophobic bullying at school, whose school offered him no support even when they knew he was struggling. We must prevent other children from experiencing the same fate. The National Black Justice Coalition supports the passage of The Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas Student Suicide Prevention Act, and we encourage those who care about the lives of Black people and the LGBTQ+/SGL community to vote yes on the bill."

"Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, and LGBTQ young people face significantly increased risk. This legislation will help equip school staff and students with the tools necessary to assist students in crisis and prevent suicide," said Preston Mitchum (he/him), Director of Advocacy & Government Affairs for The Trevor Project. "The Trevor Project's research demonstrates that learning about suicide prevention in school is associated with lower rates of attempting suicide among LGBTQ students, as well as increased preparedness to help a friend who was struggling with suicidal thoughts."

According to the Jason Foundation, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, and each day, there are an average of over 3,703 suicide attempts by young people grades 9-12. From the same data, roughly 18.8% of high school students have seriously contemplated suicide, and four out of five individuals considering suicide give some sign of their intentions, either verbally or behaviorally.

To combat these troubling statistics, the Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas Student Suicide Prevention Act would:

  • Authorize grant funding to states to be used for training all school personnel, including auxiliary staff, in elementary and secondary schools in youth suicide awareness and prevention.
  • Authorize grant funding to states to be used for training secondary school students (with an opt-out option) to help equip them with the knowledge needed to identify the warning signs of mental distress and the resources available to report signs to appropriate staff.
  • Allocate no less than 15% of grants to be used specifically for evidence-informed training, with an emphasis on cultural competency, each school year in elementary and secondary schools.

The Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas Student Suicide Prevention Act is cosponsored by Reps. Sharice Davids (D-KS), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Steven Cohen (D-TN), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Jason Crow (D-CO), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Karen Bass (D-CA), Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Alma Adams (D-NC).

The Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas Student Suicide Prevention Act is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, National Association of School Psychologists, Jason Foundation, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Sandy Hook Promise, and National Black Justice Coalition.

Official text of the Cady Housh and Gemesha Thomas Student Suicide Prevention Act is available here.

Emanuel Cleaver, II is the U.S. Representative for Missouri's Fifth Congressional District, which includes Kansas City, Independence, Lee's Summit, Raytown, Grandview, Sugar Creek, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Oak Grove, North Kansas City, Gladstone, Claycomo, and all of Ray, Lafayette, and Saline Counties. He is a member of the exclusive House Financial Services Committee; Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance; member of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress; member of the Committee on Homeland Security; and a Senior Whip of the Democratic Caucus. A high-resolution photo of Congressman Cleaver is available here.