While suicide rates in New Jersey are among the lowest in the nation, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth in the state between 10 and 24 years old, according to the state Department of Human Services.
Youth suicide rates were a primary topic of discussion of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies’ seventh annual suicide prevention conference in Neptune Township, which focused on personal experiences.
“There is no one face of what somebody who struggles looks like,” said Wendy Sefcik, chair of the New Jersey Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council, whose son TJ took his life in 2010. “We all go through difficult times in our life. And at those times, we need safety nets in place to help catch us.”
Data show that fewer than 40% of people struggling with their mental health receive treatment. To change that trajectory, organizations like the NJ Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies and Attitudes in Reverse, or AIR, have teamed up to educate youth and encourage treatment.
AIR co-founders Kurt and Tricia Baker lost their son Kenny to suicide when he was 19 years old. The organization’s exhibit, entitled “In Their Shoes,” features 277 pairs of shoes, representing each New Jersey youth who lost hope, ending their lives by suicide between 2014 and 2016.
“A lot of times we respond to behaviors without really taking a moment to sit back to think about ‘Why is that particular person acting the way that they’re acting?'” said Kurt Baker. “And maybe there is something we can do to help them to maybe be a little better and maybe work through whatever they’re struggling with.”
State officials admit New Jersey has a long way to go educating the public to spot a dispirited comment as a potential warning sign.