Senators Boost Suicide-Prevention Bill

Personal grief became part of the public record Thursday in the Senate as lawmakers speaking on behalf of suicide prevention legislation described the pain of losing a loved one.

"I didn't volunteer to be a champion of this issue," said Sen. Gordon Smith (search), who choked back tears during a speech in the chamber. "It arose out of personal experience."

Smith, R-Ore., introduced the bill in honor of his 21-year-old son, Garrett, who committed suicide in September.

Smith said his son suffered from manic depression, or bipolar disorder, and endured "emotional pain I cannot begin to comprehend."

Sens. Harry Reid (search), D-Nev., and Don Nickles (search), R-Okla., then told a hushed Senate that their fathers had killed themselves.

Reid said his father died in 1972, but the family did not talk about it for more than 20 years.

Only in 1996 did Reid first speak publicly about his father's suicide. Soon after, the senator said, his office was inundated with calls and letters from people around the country who had also lost a loved one to suicide.

"I quickly learned that suicide is a national problem -- and one that is particularly severe in Nevada," Reid said.

Nickles did not elaborate on the circumstances of his father's death.

The Senate approved Smith's bill by voice vote. It would authorize $82 million over three years to provide grants to states, Indian tribes, colleges and universities to develop youth suicide prevention and intervention programs.

The bill would emphasize screening programs that identify mental illness in children as young as sixth-graders, and provide referrals for community-based treatment and training for child care professionals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,000 children and young adults take their lives each year. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for Americans age 10 to 24. Males are four times more likely to die from suicide than females, the CDC said.

The House has not yet considered the legislation.