Tempe Union students' IDs

Information like this has been a staple on Tempe Union students' IDs for several years, but now it is mandatory for all schools, including colleges and universities, in Arizona.

Beginning July 1, all Arizona high schools and colleges will be required to have a suicide prevention phone number printed on the back of their student IDs.

“Putting access to crisis services in the hands of Arizona’s teens and families is critical to preventing teen suicide and helping teens cope with the challenges they face,” said Nikki Kontz, Teen Lifeline clinical director.

“We want our teens to know they are never alone and to reach out for help when they need it.”

Gov. Doug Ducey signed this new requirement into law last June under Senate Bill 1446, which Ahwatukee Sen. Sean Bowie sponsored and received unanimous legislative support.

Arizona is the fourth state to require schools to add crisis hotline information on student IDs, joining

California, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Lawmakers in Michigan and Indiana are considering similar legislation.

Tempe Union is well ahead of the curve on this law since the district has included the suicide hotline number on the back of student IDs for several years.

“Teens and young adults need to be aware of the resources available to them,” Bowie said. “Expanding this requirement statewide will give every public high school and college student immediate access to help when they need it.”

Teen Lifeline, a Phoenix-based nonprofit providing suicide prevention services to teenagers statewide, first started working with schools to get their crisis hotline to appear on student IDs in 2015. 

Troy Bales, a former Pinnacle High School principal and incoming superintendent of Paradise Valley Unified School District, had the idea to add the Teen Lifeline phone number to the back of student IDs and together they began the first student ID initiative.

The law passed was modeled after this initiative.

Since Pinnacle High School printed the Teen Lifeline phone number on the back of their student IDs, the initiative has now reached over 260 Arizona middle schools and high schools, with a combined enrollment of more than 300,000 students.

More than 1,000 more high schools and nearly 60 colleges and universities in Arizona will now be required to add a suicide prevention phone number to their student identification badges.

“This simple change removes the stigma of asking for help from peers, teachers, guidance counselors or an anonymous call to Teen Lifeline,” Bales said.

As the program grew, Bowie started talking to students and parents from schools with the initiative in place and acknowledged the changes that were happening on campus. 

He saw that having Teen Lifeline’s phone number readily available opened communication and important dialogue between students, staff and parents. 

So, he brought what he saw in Tempe, Chandler and Mesa statewide and extended it to colleges.

Bowie and Kontz recognize that college is a transitional, hard time for students, which is why they wanted crisis numbers not just on high school IDs.

“Many college students could be coming from out-of-state or smaller communities and going to a big campus like ASU, which can be very daunting and overwhelming,” Kontz said, adding:

 “They may not know how to reach out for help. Since suicide rates are high among adolescents and young adults, we want them to have a number at their fingertips when they’re unlikely to seek help on campus right away.”

Kontz hopes that having access to Teen Lifeline’s phone number on IDs will connect students with other youth who understand what they are going through, destigmatize mental health, and allow more students to reach out for help.

This month, two Chandler high school students and one in Scottsdale have taken their lives.

In 2020, Teen Lifeline received 23,341 calls and 11,497 text messages from troubled youths throughout Arizona – nearly 29 percent more calls and texts than in 2019.

As alarming as this increase may seem, Kontz says that crisis services seeing a rise in calls and text messages is actually a good sign.

“The increase of calls on our hotline and all the other hotlines across the nation just goes to show that our messaging went through,” Kontz said. 

“People did reach out when they needed it, even when it wasn’t about suicide but rather other hardships and crises happening in their life. They were reaching out for support and help just like we have suggested and marketed that they do.”

As students gain more accessibility to suicide prevention resources with the new law in effect, it would be “a great thing” if the amount of calls and texts to Teen Lifeline continues to rise, Kontz said.

“It means that many more people are getting the support they need before they become so desperate that they think giving up is an option,” Kontz said. “They can reach out and get help before they follow through or make that attempt.”

Nationally, an average of one youth’s life is lost to suicide every three hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For every death by suicide, there are 200 youth suicide attempts.

Kontz says that youth face a variety of risk factors such as bullying, social media pressures, academic pressures, and more. The pandemic, political issues and civil unrest has caused further issues for many.

Teenagers are the only generation who have had to grow up during all of these changes, so speaking to other teenagers who truly understand what they’re going through allows them to open up, Kontz said.

Naturally, youth individualize themselves away from their family and adults, Kontz said. So speaking to peers first who then connect them with healthy adults in their life who can help them from there may be a better option for some.

Teen Lifeline volunteers go through an extreme amount of training and are always supervised by master’s degreed clinicians so there’s always a behavioral health professional right next to them, Kontz said.

In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, one Arizona child between the ages of eight and 17 died by suicide every 9.6 days, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Suicide was the second leading cause of death for Arizona children and teens ages 10 to 19 in 2019, according to the CDC. Arizona high school students reported the third highest levels of feeling sad or hopeless (40.6 percent) compared to all other states.

Kontz says that students struggle to find resources or know that they exist. If students don’t know that things exist, then they don’t know what to look for and don’t have the tools to deal with their issues.

Having a suicide prevention phone number printed on the back of their IDs will give students another tool for their toolbox.

“When we’re talking about resources, it can’t be one size fits all,” Kontz said. “This is making sure that people know that they’re not alone and that for those who might want to reach out that they have a place to do so where people will help and support them.”

For more information, visit TeenLifeline.org. For help, teenagers can call Teen Lifeline at 602-248-8336.

(TEEN) 24 hours a day. They can text that same number weekdays 12-9 p.m. and weekends 3-9 p.m. Peer counseling is available 3-9 p.m. daily. If outside Maricopa, call 1-800-248-8336 (TEEN).

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