By Briana Vannozzi
“What most people don’t realize is they’re not alone,” said Executive Director of Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide Dawn Doherty.
That message from leaders with the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide is growing more important than ever. As new data in a report published by the State Department of Children and Families shows suicide is the third leading cause of death for New Jersey youth ages 10 to 24.
“Our intrinsic need is to figure out what the cause is so that we can figure out how to solve it. It’s multi-determinational and there are many, many reasons why that come together like a perfect storm, coupled with crisis thinking that would drive someone to do that,” said Clinical Director for Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide Phillis Alongi.
The report uses data from 2002 to 2015 and shows the number of suicides among kids and young adults has increased 40 percent since then. From just 3.2 suicides out of every 100,000 children, to 5.5 in 2015. It’s not just in New Jersey, the rate is increasing across the country with 8.5 suicides out of every 100,000 teens and children nationally.
“I do want to just precaution everyone too that we’re not in epidemic proportions, however when we talk about young people taking their own lives, one death by suicide is too many,” said Maureen Brogan, statewide coordinator for Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth.
Medical professionals caution defining specific factors, though they point to things like increased rates of anxiety and depression, more academic and social pressure, the rise of social media and online bullying and greater access to drugs and alcohol.
“It is a public health issue. We need to pay attention to these reports and the data, and then more importantly, what are we going to do with that data?” said Brogan.
That’s why groups like the Traumatic Loss Coalitions at Rutgers University and the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide are doing more to get people talking about the subject.
“We have a free online training for school teachers and school staff,” said Dawn Doherty. “We’ve had over 200,000 educators across the country complete this. For youth we do have our Youth Council which is an interactive group that meets during the school year.”
“New Jersey’s doing an awful lot in the field of suicide and suicide prevention. And really doing a lot of what we call gate keeper training, which is training all of our adults, as well as our young people, on what are the warning signs of suicide. And also, how do we connect these people to help?” asked Brogan.
The report identifies where the highest rates of suicide exist throughout the state. The skyland region in rural northwest New Jersey has the highest rate of youth suicide at 7.5 per 100,000 persons. And while rates are declining for older teens, they’re increasing for the younger, more than doubled ,according to the CDCP, with teen boys twice as likely to die by suicide as teen girls.
“It’s really important for us to get educated to know the warning signs. It’s really important for parents to feel confident and competent in speaking to their kids to having those difficult conversations,” said Alongi.
Alongi says red flags are changes in behavior or sleep patterns, becoming withdrawn or talking about dying.
Above all, experts in this field want people to know this public health problem is preventable.
Below are a list of resources. If you’re concerned about someone considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.
NJ HOPELINE: 855-NJ-HOPELINE
2nd Floor: 888-222-2228