By Lynsey Robinson, GSN Guest Writer
There is no hiding the truth that in Arizona, suicides among teens are on an uptick.
In 2018, Arizona’s suicide rate was 12 per 100,000 deaths, compared to the national average of 8. Arizona’s suicide rate rose from 10 in 2016 to 12 in 2018, while the national average remained similar during the same respective years.
Whatever is behind the spike in teen suicide in Arizona, it is up to our legislators to remain vigilant and aware of the needs of our communities. It is their responsibility to fight for our communities.
The integrity of life is essential and our political leaders must utilize legislation to drive solutions for our communities. We must vote in favor of legislation that puts life first and not vote for or introduce legislation that frustrates that purpose.
Many researchers have suggested that the cause of suicide deaths among teens is related to parental neglect, failure to identify substance abuse issues or their child’s social inequality. There is no question that parental involvement in their teen’s life does have a direct impact on the teen’s mental state. However, to tackle this issue, parents need help.
Political leaders need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Communities are shaped by rules, regulations and their leaders.
There is hope! There are Democrats taking on this challenge. For example, Democrat Senator Sean Bowie of Ahwatukee sponsored SB1468, which would provide suicide prevention training for guidance counselors, teachers, principals and school personnel. The bill passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, 28-2. Both East Valley Senators David Farnsworth of Mesa and Eddie Farnsworth of Gilbert voted against the bill.
In the East Valley alone, 31 teenagers have committed suicide in less than two years, and 5 of those suicides occurred after August 2018. The youngest child to commit suicide so far was only 11.
Despite the bipartisan support in the Senate, the bill has not been assigned to a committee for a fair hearing by House Speaker Russell Bowers, R-Mesa.
Meanwhile, Democrats continue to put forth bills to protect our children. For example, it is no secret that LGBTQ youth are at higher risk of suicide. Recent studies show that LGBTQ youth are more than three times as likely to attempt suicide versus their heterosexual peers.
Democrats sponsored SB1415, which would create inclusive health education policies and eliminate the shaming of LGBTQ students in Arizona.
As a response to the mass school shootings around the country, students took to the street to march and organized by making their voices loud and clear that they want comprehensive gun control, increased counselors in the classroom and legislation that will protect their lives.
But in a 31-27 party-line vote, the Republican-controlled chamber passed HB2693, which would allow loaded guns on school grounds in vehicles. This legislation seems irresponsible and arguably tone deaf to the trauma students may experience in response to this bill.
While the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 students per counselor, Arizona has 924 students per counselor. Democrats like Jennifer Pawlik of Chandler announced HB2562, which would lower student to counselor ratios and fund additional counselors in our public schools along with Senate companion bill SB1344 introduced by Senator Bowie that would gradually lower student to counselor ratio to the national average.
It’s no secret that teenagers commit suicide when they have problems at home. We must do whatever we can to stop teenagers from committing suicide.
We can help by passing the right legislation. Instead of only focusing on what parents can do, how about we concentrate on what our Arizona leaders can do to have a direct impact on teen success?
Passing legislation that reduce the counselor-student ratio in the classroom is a great start. Teen life contributes to the preservation of all mankind, and party affiliation should not make a difference, yet it is clear with the bills discussed that Democrats are leading the charge.
-Lynsey Robinson is an Gilbert attorney and a former legislative candidate.