Bill to put suicide hotline on student ID’s named for NH teen

  • Martha Dickey applauds the lawmakers and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu on their efforts to pass SB 282 in the Executive Coucil chambers on Friday, August 2, 2019. The bill will mandate that schools provide training on recognizing the warning signs for suicide and prevention. The Dickeys lost their Jason to suicide in 2017. Concord Monitor file photograph — GEOFF FORESTER

  • The two bracelets that Martha Dickey wears for her son Jason at the State House on Thursday, December 3, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

Concord Monitor
Published: 4/30/2022 9:53:11 PM
Modified: 4/30/2022 9:51:37 PM

CONCORD — When Martha Dickey’s son Jason was in high school, he typed out his favorite quotation: “Peace of mind comes piece by piece,” and taped it to the back of his student ID card.

Jason Dickey took his Merrimack Valley High School ID card with him wherever he went, his mother said, and had it on him the day he died by suicide in 2017. This year, a piece of legislation that Martha Dickey has championed is poised to pass the New Hampshire Legislature. It would require the telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to be printed on the back of every student ID card issued in New Hampshire.

“It was such a tragedy for us,” Martha Dickey said. “I always say if we help one person and we don’t even know who that is, it makes our loss more bearable, a bit less like Jason died in vain. We couldn’t help him, but we don’t know if these supports were there, would he have been able to draw on that back then?”

The bill, SB 234, would require student ID cards to include the telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service that provides free and confidential support for people in distress around the clock. The requirement would apply to all K-12 public schools, colleges and universities that currently issue ID cards.

The idea behind adding the Lifeline number to the ID card is that the number will be readily available in the bag or wallet of any student who is struggling, literally putting the resources in their hands.

“The hope is that at least at a moment in time, a kid is going to look at it,” Dickey said. “Maybe it’s the day they get it. Some schools require it for entry. If they are made aware of it at some moment in time, if they find themselves in crisis, I hope it’s something they would have in reach and literally reach for and make that call.”

Once Martha Dickey had the idea for the legislation, she approached Gov. Chris Sununu, who connected her with Sen. Ruth Ward, a Republican from Stoddard, who became the bill’s primary sponsor. At a House Education Committee hearing in early April, Ward described the bill as a “small effort” that could go a long way toward keeping New Hampshire youths safe.

“This bill does not require schools to all of a sudden print ID cards,” Ward said. “These are for the schools who already have student ID cards, so putting this number on the cards will be easy to get to in case a student is in trouble and really needs some quick help.”

The bill has generated considerable support in the Legislature. In February, the bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously and passed the full Senate easily. It passed the House Education Committee unanimously Tuesday with an amendment renaming it the Jason Dickey Suicide Prevention Act. It is expected to go before the full House on Thursday. If passed, it will proceed to the desk of Sununu, who has said he supports the bill.

Martha and her husband, Paul, were at the House Education Committee meeting Tuesday when the bill was renamed.

“It was so overwhelming to see that not only were they unanimous in the bill itself, but they wanted to name it after Jason,” Martha Dickey said. “It was so surreal and humbling and we were so proud.”

Other states have passed similar laws requiring the Lifeline number to be on student ID cards, including South Carolina, Illinois, Arizona and California.

“My hope is if one student in New Hampshire has that number and sees it one day and makes that call and saves themselves, that’s a success,” Martha Dickey said.

If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be contacted anytime at 1-800-273-8255. Starting July 16, people can also reach the Lifeline by dialing 988.

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