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Missouri legislators to make second push for student suicide prevention bill

Kevin Dietl, left, poses with his mother in a family photograph.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
Kevin Dietl, left, poses with his mother in a family photograph. Dietl, a fourth-year student at A.T. Still University's school of medicine, took his own life in 2015.

Legislators are making another attempt to prevent suicide among students in Missouri colleges and medical schools.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, pre-filed Senate Bill 52, which would require colleges and universities to develop suicide prevention policies. It also would create a statewide research committee to prevent depression among medical students, and forbid medical schools from preventing student-led efforts to study mental health issues among their peers.

“It’s really not a controversial bill. It’s an awareness bill,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. “We have to begin to look at what’s happening on those college campuses, and try to have preventative measures in place before they get to that point of no return.”

Last year, Nasheed sponsored the measure for suicide prevention in colleges and universities, while state Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, filed a separate measure for medical schools. Their two bills did not make it through the legislature in the last session’s final days. 

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that reviewed studies of depression among medical students in 15 countries, noted that one in four students reported symptoms of depression. One in 10 considered suicide.  Only 15 percent of those who were identified as depressed sought psychiatric treatment.
To Dr. Stuart Slavin, an associate dean of curriculum at St. Louis University’s School of Medicine, the numbers reaffirm the data he’s seen over and over. Though many U.S. medical schools have established policies to reduce student stress, he said many of those efforts have been inadequate.

“Those programs sometimes allow us to ignore the deeper, underlying problems that exist in some of these educational environments.  So we have to be careful not to just feel like we can apply Band-Aid’s to this situation,” Slavin said.

Students at four-year colleges and universities have also reported poorer mental health. Almost 14 percent of students reported depression symptoms that were so severe, their academic performance suffered in 2015, according to the National College Health Assessment.

“This is not a problem unique to medical school. Increasingly, what we’re seeing are students coming to college with more stress, much more anxiety, and a higher risk for depression than any time in the past,” Slavin said.

The 2017 legislative session begins Jan. 4.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB