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Indiana lawmakers to consider plan for reducing youth suicide

Mindi Goodpaster, policy director at Marion County Commission on Youth, speaks Wednesday at a meeting of the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana about a legislative proposal to be sponsored by state Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, that seeks to reduce youth suicide in the state.

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier lawmakers next month will begin considering a package of legislation aimed at reducing suicide among children, teenagers and young adults.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death, behind accidents, for Indiana residents ages 15-23, according to the State Department of Public Health.

In 2014, the most recent year with complete data available, 119 Indiana teenagers and young adults took their own lives, including 13 in Lake County. Another nine Hoosier children between ages 5-14 also committed suicide that year.

A biennial federal survey of Indiana high school students found last year that 1 in 6 Hoosier teens considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months, and 1 in 8 made a plan for how to do it.

Those are both increases over prior years.

"Compared to other states we're right in the middle, basically, in terms of our current deaths — which means that we could be doing better," said Mindi Goodpaster, public policy director at the Marion County Commission on Youth.

State Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, has been working with Goodpaster, and other child safety committee members at the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana, to develop legislative plans to shrink the number of Indiana suicides.

His proposal, set to be filed at the Statehouse in January, calls for incentives to attract more behavioral health professionals to Indiana and creation of a state suicide prevention coordinator to ensure local and regional anti-suicide programs have access to the best information and resources.

"This person would be the hub for coordinating and helping to provide technical assistance throughout the state," Goodpaster said.

Head envisions schools playing an enhanced role in suicide prevention, with teachers and all school employees — not just new educators — required to participate in suicide prevention training at least once every five years.

Schools also would have to develop policies and standards, similar to their anti-bullying practices, that identify students contemplating suicide and find them appropriate assistance, as well as planning for how the school will respond to a student suicide.

Indiana colleges and universities similarly would be encouraged to establish suicide prevention programs and raise awareness of crisis intervention and counseling services available to students.

"We think that would be a really important step toward preventing a lot of the tragedies that happen on our campuses," Goodpaster said.

All licensed medical and behavioral health professionals also would be required to regularly complete an in-person, evidence-based training program in suicide assessment, treatment and prevention under the plan.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has not yet calculated the cost to implement Head's proposal.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.