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NASBE Analysis Urges Policies that Empower Youth to Prevent Suicide

Alexandria, VA — A new NASBE analysis urges states to prioritize policies that leverage peer-to-peer support to increase the impact of their overall youth suicide prevention strategies.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14, and emergency room visits from attempted suicides by 12- to 17-year-olds increased by 31 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The trends among teenage girls are even more pronounced.

Peers often turn to friends as trusted sources of information and support, write NASBE’s Megan Blanco and Dr. Holly Wilcox, a Maryland state board member and professor in the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Through exposure to evidence-based programs to empower and equip youth to assist peers, students can recognize the symptoms of mental distress in friends, learn how to involve a trusted adult or seek professional help, or ask their peer directly about whether they are having suicidal thoughts,” the authors write.

The report highlights state action examples, identifies multipronged approaches to suicide prevention, and discusses federal funding opportunities available to states to support peer-to-peer programming.

  • New Jersey is using a portion of its COVID-19 relief funds to implement a classroom-based program, teen Mental Health First Aid, that teaches adolescents how to respond to mental health distress and substance use in friends.
  • Wisconsin convened a bipartisan task force that conducted a listening tour of stakeholders and evaluated state resources for suicide prevention and opportunities to target and assist at-risk individuals, including dedicated funding for peer-to-peer programs.
  • New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Virginia require mental health education as part of health education, enabling evidence-based approaches to be incorporated into the classroom for all students.
  • In collaboration with the CDC, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers states direct funding, technical assistance, guidance, and tools to prevent youth suicide.

“Because ideation and attempted suicide among children and adolescents are on the rise, state boards will want to pursue all avenues to support students’ mental health, including by enabling them to help each other,” write Blanco and Wilcox.

Read and share Empowering Youth to Prevent Suicide.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at

This publication is supported by cooperative agreement NU87PS004367-01-01, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views or endorsement of the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.


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