Council bill would require schools to distribute suicide prevention resources

Councilmember Erik Bottcher of Manhattan speaks at a City Hall press conference on August 11.
NYC Council/John McCarten

Councilmember Erik Bottcher of Manhattan introduced legislation on August 11 that would require the New York City Department of Education to distribute suicide prevention information to students and educate them about a new national suicide hotline.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which went live last month, was created to help connect people in need of mental health services with the care they need. Individuals can call or text the hotline or engage in an online chat. Schools would have to inform students of that hotline and other related resources available to them.

The issue hits close to home for Bottcher, who is openly gay and has publicly recounted his own struggles with mental health as a young person growing up in upstate Wilmington. At age 15, he endured a suicide attempt that left him hospitalized.

The legislation is, in part, driven by the lessons he hopes the city can take from his own experience. During his youth, Bottcher lacked the support he needed to thrive in a healthy environment.

“As a someone who attempted suicide as a teenager, this issue is deeply personal for me.” Bottcher said in a written statement. “I was never given any information on what suicide is, its warning signs and risk factors, and a place to reach out to. That’s why this legislation is so critical.”

The bill is also co-sponsored by Education Committee Chair Rita Joseph of Brooklyn, Linda Lee of Queens, Eric Dinowitz of the Bronx, and Gale Brewer and Julie Menin of Manhattan.

Lawmakers held a press conference on the issue at City Hall ahead of the Council’s August 11 Stated Meeting. At the presser, Menin explained that a friend’s son had died by suicide at age 15.

“That is the age I was when I tried to take my life, but I was lucky,” Bottcher said at the Stated Meeting. “I was hospitalized, but I am here today. What I did not have before my suicide attempt was any information or resources of any kind. That was a different time in the early ‘90s. I don’t blame my family or the school. It was a different time, a different place.”

He added: “But now we have resources for young people. We have help. We need to make sure that we’re getting that to young people in every school in the city.”

Joseph said the bill would allow lawmakers to carry out their obligation to provide communities with awareness of the resources available to them.

“When passed, this bill will make sure that our young people know that they have somewhere to turn to when they’re facing adversity,” Joseph said in a written statement.

Among the groups backing the bill include The Trevor Project, a national non-profit dedicated to suicide prevention in the LGBTQ community.

“In the midst of a youth mental health crisis, which disproportionately impacts young people who are LGBTQ and/or BIPOC, it is critical that schools widely publicize suicide prevention resources like 988. Doing so will save lives,” Preston Mitchum, the director of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a written statement.

The bill’s text further states that the law would require schools to convey to students the warning signs or risk factors of suicide and anything else that the Department of Education deems relevant.

Last year, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a decade of statistics on suicide deaths dating to 2010. In the year 2020, 542 people died by suicide across New York City. The Health Department said the Community Health Survey found that 2.4% of adults 18 or older had serious thoughts about suicide in the last year.

The bill calls for the materials to be distributed annually beginning on September 1 of this year at the latest.