WINCHESTER — A bill introduced by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, to help prevent suicides has unanimously passed the state House and Senate.

The bill is now headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for his signature. HB 569 requires the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to report on its anti-suicide activities annually to the Virginia General Assembly and the governor. The report is due on Dec. 1 each year.

The department has the lead responsibility for the commonwealth’s Suicide Prevention Across the Lifespan Plan. The plan is a guide for the department and other state agencies as they try to find ways to reduce the risk of suicide around Virginia.

State code says the DBHDS is currently required to coordinate the activities of the state agencies pertaining to suicide prevention so it can develop and carry out a comprehensive suicide prevention plan. The plan would address public awareness, the promotion of health development, early identification, intervention and treatment and support to survivors.

Gooditis said the DBHDS not reporting its findings to the General Assembly annually is a problem because it keeps legislators and the governor in the dark about which measures work in regard to suicide prevention. Without this data, the governor and the elected representatives have less guidance in determining which initiatives need support and which programs should receive funding.

Gooditis’ bill makes these reports available to the state lawmakers.

“What that can do is publicize things that are working and things that are sadly not working so that legislators can contact people in their own district and say, ‘This really worked well in District 87. Can we get stakeholders together and see if it’s worth implementing here?’” Gooditis said. “It provides the statistics. It provides descriptions of what measures are going on in other parts of Virginia. It’s a way to see what is useful.”

Suicide prevention is important to Gooditis, as her brother previously made attempts to take his life. Gooditis said she lost her brother last year to alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder, two weeks into her candidacy for office.

“Look around you, left and right,” Gooditis said in a news release. “There is no one who hasn’t been touched by the scourge of suicide. HB 569 makes it easier to tackle this complex but solvable problem. I remain committed to solving this issue. I will fight so that no more mothers or fathers or brothers or sisters or uncles or aunts have to lose their loved ones to suicide.”

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

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