Suicide review teams could prevent youth deaths

Bill would allow a review team to study past youth suicides in the state.

By Madeline Coats

Washington Newspaper Publishers Association

OLYMPIA — A bipartisan group of lawmakers have proposed a bill to create suicide review teams to study youth deaths in Washington.

House Bill 1240 is co-sponsored by 11 representatives and was introduced by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (R-Goldendale).

The bill requires the state Department of Health to establish a youth suicide review team for circumstances related to intentional deaths among adolescents and young adults up to age 24.

“This bill was originally the thought of a 15-year-old that is in my hometown who has tried to commit suicide three different times,” Mosbrucker said at a public hearing.

According to Mosbrucker, there were 1,292 suicides in the state in 2017, many of whom were younger than 24. The review teams aim to cross-reference cases of youth mental health with opioid use, social media addiction, and cyber or school bullying, she explained.

The review team would perform an in-depth evaluation of each person younger than 24 years old who died by suicide in the state during 2018. The review team would analyze circumstances of the deaths and compile statistics to determine common factors that might have contributed to the suicides, as stated in the bill.

“This review team gives us the opportunity to examine some of the components as to the ‘why,’ ” said Dr. Jodi Daly, chief executive officer of Comprehensive Healthcare.

There have been many hypotheses by health care professionals, she explained. These review teams would allow them to target evidence-based practices and put pieces of the puzzle together.

HB 1240 would require health care providers to disclose medical information “without the patient’s authorization” if requested by the Department of Health to assist the research of the suicide review team, the bill states.

Comprehensive Healthcare Vice President Courtney Hesla explained the lack of data on youth suicide when compared with adults. Suicide is the leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 14 and the second leading cause of death in 15- to 23-year-olds, she said.

A study by the University of Washington in 2017 discovered that 18 percent of Washington students in the 10th grade have experienced suicidal thoughts in the past year alone, Hesla said. Twelve percent planned to commit suicide, and 7 percent attempted to kill themselves.

The bill mentions that approximately one-half of mental health conditions appear by age 14, which further identifies a need to prevent youth suicide risk earlier in a child’s life. The review team is designed to allow for more targeted intervention programs to reach youth earlier in their lives.