Reluctance to require suicide prevention education could cost lives

CODY, Wyo. — It was clear to Soffy Anderson, 18, that the state needed to take action. She’d lost her sister to suicide and wished she’d known what signs to look for and how to intervene. When she took a break from class at Cody High School to testify to the Wyoming State Legislature, via Zoom, in favor of a bill that would have mandated suicide prevention education in schools, she was prepared for an easy win.

“I thought it would be a no-brainer,” said Anderson of legislators voting “yes” on the bill.

Her state legislators disagreed. During discussion of the bill, lawmakers didn’t deny suicide was a problem or that something needed to be done, but they disagreed on what to do and who should do it.

“From my freshman year till my senior year of high school I lost 13 friends to suicide,” Rep. Landon Brown, a Republican representing Cheyenne in southeastern Wyoming, told fellow lawmakers. (Brown later said he wasn’t certain about the number. A spokesperson for the Laramie County School District #1 could only find records of two students who died by suicide at East High school while Brown was enrolled there.)

Despite this history, Brown, like many of his colleagues, said a bill requiring schools to provide suicide prevention education to students was legislative overreach.