BOSTON — Brian Fernandes’ son, Nicholas, was 17 years old and three months away from graduating from high school when he killed himself.
Since his son’s death, Fernandes has made it his mission to remove the taboo on talking about suicide, and educate himself about preventing it. He wants teachers to do the same.
Fernandes is pressing for passage of a bill requiring public school teachers and administrators to insert some suicide prevention and awareness training into existing professional development programs. The bill, filed by New Bedford Democrat Rep. Antonio Cabral, does not dictate the type of training or the number of hours required.
Fernandes and Cabral said the goal is to start a conversation at schools about suicide and ways to prevent it.
“We need to start a conversation and it needs to be a very public conversation,” Fernandes told lawmakers on the Education Committee last week.
Nineteen states have passed laws requiring school-based suicide prevention training for teachers, students or both, according to Fernandes. Massachusetts and New Hampshire are the only New England states without a requirement, he said.
Most people who commit suicide suffer from mental illnesses, often depression, Fernandes said. “They suffer from a treatable illness, and they die from that treatable illness,” he said.
Yet, too many people are afraid to discuss it because of the stigmas surrounding mental illness, he said.
School personnel are in a unique position to observe a child’s social behavior, Fernandes said. Many of the teachers he has talked to say they want suicide prevention training, but administrators often think talking about it will encourage more attempts.
“Not talking about it is not helping,” said Fernandes, a small business owner from New Bedford.
Teachers need to be trained on what to look for, Fernandes said, adding “there are things they can do.”