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Murkowski Leads Bipartisan Senate Effort to Fight Youth Suicide

Senator’s Legislation Would Help State Efforts to “Cast the Net Upstream”

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Lisa Murkowski and her colleague Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today introduced the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization with nine other Senate co-sponsors in an attempt to improve mental health services for young people and prevent youth suicides.

The reauthorization will improve access to counseling for at-risk teens and promote the development of statewide suicide early intervention and prevention strategies.   It will also increase federal funding for competitive grants to help states, colleges, universities, and tribes improve mental and behavioral health counseling services.

"Far too many young Alaskan lives are lost in the epidemic of youth suicide, and the statistics are worst in our rural areas,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.  “When our young people are in despair and get to a certain point, they make a mistaken decision to take their own lives.  We owe it to them and to our nation’s future to cast the net upstream and stop them along the way, listen to them and help them overcome their frustrations in a constructive way to stop the cycle and provide a better example to their peers.”

Senator Murkowski places a high priority on the fight against youth suicide because:

  • Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country.
  • The rate of suicide in the United States was 11.5 suicides per 100,000 people in 2007. In 2007, Alaska’s rate was 21.8 suicides per 100,000 people. 
  • Alaska Native men between the ages of 15-24 have the highest rate of suicide among any demographic in the country, with an average of 141.6 suicides per 100,000 each year between 2000 and 2009.
  • Youth who are exposed to suicide or suicidal behaviors are more at-risk for attempting suicide.

"The horrific mass shootings we’ve seen at schools across the country shows that more work must be done to address the mental and behavioral health of children and young adults before they hurt themselves and others.  Many young people have a treatable mental illnesses, but they don't get the help they need.  This bill provides critical resources for prevention and outreach programs to help reach at-risk youth before it is too late," said Senator Jack Reed. "Schools, colleges, and universities are on the front lines of preventing youth suicide and this bill will help provide them with additional resources to diagnose and treat our young people, as well as improve access to care by supporting the training of more qualified mental health professionals."

The reauthorization bill is named for then-Senator Gordon Smith's (R-OR) 22-year old son, Garrett, who was a student at Utah Valley University when he took his own life in September of 2003.  Gordon Smith authored the original bill and has championed suicide prevention and mental health initiatives.

The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization is also cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Udall (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (R-MN), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Specifically, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization would continue the following efforts:

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Ensures grantees receive appropriate information, training, and technical assistance on:

• Developing and implementing cost-effective early intervention programs;

• Identifying and understanding the causes and associated risk factors for suicide;

• Surveying suicidal behavior and nonfatal suicide attempts; and

• Evaluating and disseminating outcomes and best practices of mental health and substance use disorder services.

The reauthorization would extend the current $5 million authorization annually through fiscal year (FY) 2018.

Youth Suicide Intervention and Prevention Strategy Grants to States and Tribes

Provides States and Tribes/Tribal organizations the authorization to develop and implement:

• Early intervention, assessment, and treatment services;

• Information and awareness campaigns;

• Evaluations of intervention and prevention practices and strategies;

• Training programs for providers and child care professionals;

The reauthorization would increase the authorization from $30 million to $32 million annually through FY18.

Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services and Outreach on Campus

Enables colleges and universities to prevent youth suicide by authorizing:

• Educational and outreach activities on suicide prevention;

• The development and implementation of evidence-based and emerging best practices;

• The provision of mental health and substance use disorder services, including prevention, promotion of mental health, and voluntary screening; and

• The employment and training of personnel.

The reauthorization would increase the authorization from $5 million to $7 million annually through FY18.

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