Nancy Thompson of Cape Elizabeth ran twice for the state Legislature within a 15-month period in 2011-2012, losing both times. But she couldn’t have been happier than she was a few weeks ago when Gov. Paul LePage signed what she says would have been her signature piece of legislation, had she won election.
The new law compels school districts to provide at least two hours of training suicide awareness for all personnel, as well as a full-day courses in suicide prevention and intervention for a minimum of two people. According to Rep. Paul Gilbert of Jay, who sponsored the bill, the total of the program will run about $44,000 statewide.
For Thompson, the passage was particularly moving, given that her son, Timmy, committed suicide in 2004.
Q: How will this new law make a difference?
A: It just opens up a whole new world. I truly think this will save lives. It’s an opportunity to have not just teachers, but all school personal, anybody who comes into contact with a child on a daily basis — a cafeteria worker, a custodian, a secretary —to get this important training. And we didn’t try reinvent the wheel, because there are so many great programs out there. We just wanted to make sure that if there is a kid who’s coming out a little bit sideways, they could go ahead and access services a little bit quicker.
Q: So, students will get access to mental health services through this program?
A: Well, I don’t want people to think that every time a kid has a difficult day they are going to get in for referral services. It’s a judgment call, and this training is how educators and school staffers will know, when they see a pattern of changes in a child, that intervention is called for. A lot of time, people are hesitant because they don’t have the proper training. Now, there won’t be any excuses. Everybody will have the training to spot certain red flags.
Q: What do you want people to know about your son?
A: That he was just an average kid who seemingly had it all and then one day he took his own life. I always say, if it can happen to Timmy, it can happen to any kid. Between 15 and 24 is when mental health issues come out developmentally. So, here he was, senior year at Cape High, all the pressures of winning another lacrosse title, of moving on — and there’s a lot of pressure and transition times — and then all the relationship stuff at that age. Unless you know everything that’s going on, it can be very difficult to understand.
Q: And how do students respond to Timmy’s story?
A: Oh, it’s amazing. I mean, really, we talk to kids about birth control and pregnancy and other things, why can’t we talk to them about their mental state and how serious it is?
Q: Do you think this program might have helped Timmy if it has been around at the time?
A: Maybe. In hindsight, if we had gotten him in to speak to a counselor early on, maybe he might have realized, hey, I’m not the only one going through these things right now. That’s the type of thing that are beneficial, when you can have an honest conversation with kids, as these problems begin to pile up on each other.