Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. More than 47,000 individuals died of suicide in 2017, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Almost 7,000 of those who died of suicide were under 24. Moreover, according to the CDC, suicide rates are steadily increasing in every state. These statistics are frightening and tragic. Thankfully, activists and lawmakers have joined forces for suicide prevention by passing legislation like Lauryn’s Law in Maryland.
Fighting for a Cause
Linda Diaz lost her daughter, Lauryn Santiago, to suicide in 2013. Diaz says that she noticed changes in Lauryn’s academic performance. Because of this, she reached out to her daughter’s school counselor. However, the counselor never reached out to her daughter. The 15-year-old took her life a month later. This loss sparked a drive in Diaz. She entered the battle to fight for suicide awareness and recognition. Soon, she took the issue to the state. After hearing Lauryn’s story, Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk and District Councilwoman Mary Lehman decided to act. Along with Linda Diaz, they fought for suicide prevention legislation.
In 2015, the Maryland General Assembly passed Bill 947, or Lauryn’s Law. This bill requires training for school counselors to recognize indicators of emotional stress and mental illness. Listed indicators include substance abuse, trauma and depression.
Since students spend most of their time at school, school personnel have more opportunities to recognize warning signs. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that signs can include a decline in classroom performance, behavioral changes, and shifts in mood. To deal with students in crisis, Lauryn’s Law says that these personnel should have access to professional resources available. They should also be able to distribute them in the most appropriate manner.
Maryland school counselors are required to have a Master’s degree in school counseling or guidance and counseling. This degree requires coursework in mental health. However, Lauryn’s Law requires counselors to receive the additional training. By passing Bill 947, Maryland became the 23rd state to require suicide prevention training. Furthermore, in 2017, the Maryland legislature passed Bill 920. This Bill requires all certified school personnel to receive prevention training.
A Continuous Battle
Linda Diaz’s work didn’t stop with these bills. Diaz also founded a non-profit organization, Lauryn’s Law Inc. The Foundation works to prevent teenagers from falling victim to suicide. The organization provides a list of prevention training courses as well. Additionally, they provide a Crisis Text Line with trained crisis counselors.
Text by Nicole Anderson