Teaching Educators About Suicide Prevention

By Lauren Wanko

“I lost my middle daughter, Stephanie, at the age of 15,” said Scott Fritz.

Stephanie Fritz died by suicide 11 and half years ago.

“And then two months after we lost Stephanie, one of the families that was literally holding us up lost their son. He was 14 years old,” Fritz said.

Determined to prevent another family from experiencing the same tragedy, the grieving parents co-founded the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.

“One of the first initiatives was to have legislation passed in New Jersey that requires educators to have a minimum of two hours of suicide prevention training every five years. New Jersey was the first state in the country to pass such legislation,” said Executive Director Dawn Doherty.

The founders raised funds to develop a two-hour online training video for educators seven years ago.

“It all gets vetted by national people in the field of suicidology,” Fritz said.

SPTS recently rolled out an updated training course that includes vignettes focused on four elevated at-risk youth populations. The clips are followed by mental health professionals who provide explanations, warning signs and risk factors. It was shot in Neptune High School. Several of their students acted in the videos.

Jacklyn Lore-Edwards played Charlie, an LGBT student who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.

“I started thinking about all my friends in the LGBT community and what it must be like for them sometimes,” she said.

“Studies show that if an LGBT youth is from a family who is not really accepting of their life choices, they are at an increased risk of up to eight times to attempt suicide,” said Doherty.

Other at risk youth populations include gifted or honor students, students with a history of bullying and those that have had a previous suicide attempt.

“Because that is a really, really important transition period for the student,” Doherty said.

The 2014 Youth Suicide Report indicates suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth aged 10 to 24 in New Jersey. Between 2011 and 2013, there were 232 suicides involving youth in that age group.

“I know many of my friends and students I know from school have thought about suicide and talked about being depressed and didn’t really know how to reach out and get help,” said senior Emily Deuchar.

The free training course was first introduced in 2008 has been completed by more than 35,000 educators statewide. SPTS anticipates training 150,000 nationwide over the next few years.

SPTS insists while an educator’s role is limited in suicide prevention, it’s critical.

“We go far beyond that. We think the competent community is what carries the whole ball,” Fritz said.

“Talking about suicide is not gonna plant the seed. It really just opens up the conversation and makes them feel comfortable,” Doherty said.

“Suicide is something you can’t take back and that’s why it’s important to ask for help and identify a trusted adult before you’re in trouble,” Fritz said.

Available resources:
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.