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Georgia lawmakers consider bill that would add suicide screening in public schools

Ages 8 to 18 would be eligible for screening services

ATLANTA — A bill targeting the mental health of Georgians may get some traction in this year’s legislature. It would require suicide screening services in public schools for children as young as 8 years old.

Aiding the mental health of Georgians has become a rare bipartisan issue at the Capitol and appears to extend to this new House bill focused on schoolchildren.

Last fall, Michelle Cleveland described the suicide of one son, 18-year-old Thomas – and then Thomas’ older brother Nicolas. Over a recent 10-year period, the number of high school students who seriously considered suicide jumped by 35 percent, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

"Today, in inpatient psych facilities, they have children as young as five years old," said State Rep. Mesha Mainor (D-Atlanta), who has dropped a bill that would require Georgia public schools to provide suicide screening services for children from ages 8 to 18.

"Oftentimes with children, parents don’t know their child is depressed. Oftentimes if a child commits suicide, the first thing out of their mouth is 'I didn’t know,'" said Mainor, who said her brother took his own life.

Advocates said Georgia has lacked sufficient mental health services for children. Putting such services in schools makes sense, said State Rep. Chris Erwin (R-Homer), a former public school superintendent.

"Any options that we can open up to get our educators to let our young people get services, we need to allow it," said Erwin, Chairman of the House Education Committee.

Mainor said her bill would allow parents to opt out of suicide screenings at public schools if they so choose.

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