As an intern in the office of state Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis this past summer, I had the opportunity to research and promote one of his bills, H.516, An Act Relative to Student Identification Cards. This bill would require high schools and colleges across the state to add suicide and crisis hotline numbers to their student IDs.
When he asked me to work on it, I was excited since it is a great bill that could potentially save lives. My excitement, however, was quickly accompanied by self-doubt. I do not suffer with mental illness and have not been directly affected by suicide, and I felt like there might be others who would be more personally invested in this cause. I quickly realized, however, that most adolescents - myself included - have been affected by suicide whether we realize it or not.
While researching, I came across the MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey, which painted a comprehensive picture of the state of youth wellness in our community. Seeing staggering numbers like 19.7% of students who reported depressive symptoms, 13.1% who have considered suicide, and 3.9% who have attempted suicide really opened my eyes to the realities facing my peers. To put those numbers into context, that is close to 1,000 MetroWest adolescents that attempted suicide - 1,000 teens that could have been helped by talking to someone at a suicide hotline.
I felt the full weight of these statistics during my sophomore year of high school when two fellow students lost their lives to suicide. While I did not know them personally, the reality of their deaths rattled me and many others. Students would comment about how sad it was to see the empty seats in class. In those moments, the idyllic Disney Channel depiction of high school life seemed out of touch. High schoolers should be crying about a breakup, not the death of their classmate. So, while I initially felt that I had no connection to suicide, I was wrong. The effects of mental illness and suicide touch the lives of all those in the community.
While the school community is one of the largest groups affected by suicide, it can also be a strong source of support. School IDs are issued to every student at the beginning of each school year and are used daily, providing the perfect place to share these lifesaving resources
In our divided political climate, I hope that the issue of mental health can transcend party lines. In California, a similar bill passed unanimously, and I believe Massachusetts can do the same. In the wake of national tragedies, mental illness has been cited as a factor in these mass shootings, yet we have seen no action in regards to mental health legislation. It is time to change that. Please tell your local legislators to support House Bill 516 and Senate Bill 250 and save the lives of hundreds of local students.
Marley DeSimone, an intern for Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis of Framingham, is a senior at Framingham High School.