NASHVILLE –Legislation which aims to prevent suicide by providing training to medical professionals and others who are most likely to interact with troubled individuals is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature after passage in the House of Representatives on Thursday. Senate Bill 489, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Representative Sam Whitson (R-Franklin), enacts the “Kenneth and Madge Tullis, MD, Suicide Prevention Training Act.”
The legislation comes after three Farragut High School students committed suicide this year. It also comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report in March showing the U.S. suicide rate has been increasing since 2000. The CDC recommended that there is a growing need for comprehensive suicide prevention employing a broad public health approach.
“This legislation is very needed,” said Sen. Briggs. “Studies indicate that not all professionals are properly trained in assessing, treating, and managing suicidal people, nor do they know how to refer them for proper treatment. This legislation addresses the need to implement effective training for the recognition of at-risk behavior and the delivery of effective treatment.”
“Ongoing education of the professionals to recognize and treat mental diseases such as depression is a key factor within any prevention strategy,” added Sen. Massey. “It is important to strengthen training on suicide risk assessment and intervention.”
The bill would require professional counselors, marital and family therapist, pastoral therapist, social workers, alcohol and drug abuse counselors, and occupational therapist to undergo suicide prevention training. It calls for the program to be in place by January 1, 2020. Professionals affected would then have exactly two years to complete the initial training required with follow-up training every five years thereafter.
Likewise, any professionals joining the field after 2022 would have two years to complete the training with a refresher course following every five years after.
The bill is named after Dr. Kenneth Tullis, a survivor of seven suicide attempts and multiple addictions, is an award-winning psychiatrist specializing in mood disorders, addictions, psychological trauma, and suicide prevention. Tullis and his wife, Madge, organized and co-chaired Tennessee’s first-ever Suicide Prevention Conference. Together with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, they founded the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN), which has become a model for other states.