By Lauren Wanko
“Sometimes your mind can be a really dangerous neighborhood. Don’t go there alone. Reach out for help,” said Maureen Underwood.
That’s Clinical Director Underwood’s message to teens contemplating suicide. She’s with the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, a non-profit launched in 2005.
“The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide was started by two fathers who lost their teenage children to suicide. At the time they were unaware it was an issue that parents should be aware of and so wanted to do something to help,” said Executive Director Dawn Doherty.
“Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24 nationally,” said Underwood.
In New Jersey though, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth age 10 to 24. According to the 2014 state Department of Children and Families report, between 2011 and 2013, there were 232 suicides involving youth in that age group.
When asked what are some of the factors that contribute to suicide, Underwood said, “Suicide is complex and I think that’s one of the mistakes we make sometimes, we try to simplfy it and come up with one reason.”
But there could be lots of factors says Underwood, including depression, anxiety and combining emotional issues with drugs and alcohol. The CDC indicates 17 percent of high school students in the country seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months before their 2013 survey.
“One of the major issues I think is to talk about it, like cancer was the C word a generation ago, suicide is sort of the S word today. One of the aims of my organization is to try reduce some of the stigma around having a conversation about suicide if you don’t feel like you can use the word suicide talk to someone about taking their life. There are lots of other ways to say it. And once you can talk about a problem you can do something about it,” Underwood said.
Doctors, school officials or free hotlines are just a few places to turn to for help after that conversation says Underwood. The warning signs or FACTS include feelings, expressing hopelessness about the future, actions displaying severe or overwhelming pain or distress, changes in behavior like withdrawing from friends, threats such as talking about suicide and experiencing stressful situations like loss.
In February 2015, SPTS re-launched a free-online suicide prevention training course. Since then the non-profit says there are nearly 8,700 additional school personnel trained nationwide, more than 1,000 are from New Jersey. SPTS recently launched a Youth Council, compromised of 70 high school students from Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Underwood says although SPTS started in NJ the need for education and awareness about youth suicide continues to grow throughout the country, which is why the team works in schools and communities nationwide. So far they’ve made presentations and provided training in about 35 states.
For Resources on Suicide Prevention:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
The New Jersey Hopeline is also available 24/7 at 1-855-654-6735.
The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide’s Facebook page is available here.