To mark National Suicide Awareness Month, hundreds of advocates and experts gathered in Trenton for the Fifth Annual Suicide Prevention Conference. Every year, the event has a different focus, and this year’s turned its sights to the roles played by pediatricians and other doctors in prevention.
“We want to provide physicians with the tools to screen and identify individuals who may be at risk of hurting themselves and then to provide them with the resources to refer individuals too, so they can get the help and support that they need,” said Valerie Mielke, assistant commissioner of Mental Health & Addiction Services at the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
For Tricia Baker, those resources came too late. In May 2009, her son Kenny ended his life at 19 years old. After Kenny’s death, she helped create an exhibit called “In Their Shoes,” which encourages people to speak up about youth suicide and was on display at the conference.
Too often, signs of the onset of mental disorder get confused for signs of puberty among adolescents, thereby leaving many young patients undiagnosed, she said.
While the conversation may be difficult, doctors say it’s essential that parents talk to their kids about suicide.
“If we can spread the word and to say you’re not going to give your child an idea if you talk to them about suicide,” said Dr. Virna Little, director of the Center for Innovation in Mental Health at CUNY School of Public Health.