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RUMSON: STRAIGHT TALK ON TEEN SUICIDES

jrleague-4953090From left: Horizons executive director Lori Hohenleitner, Dr. Stacy Doumas, Therapist Alicia Zink, Red Bank Regional SOURCE clinical supervisor Stacy Liss, and Junior League of Monmouth County president Deborah Patrone are pictured at a recent JLMC forum on teen suicide prevention. 

Press release from Junior League of Monmouth County

“For those of you who feel fortunate not to have experienced suicide in your communities, schools or families, I just want to say: it is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Stacy Liss told an audience seeking resources and information on preventing youth suicide.

The subject of youth suicide is a very emotional and difficult one to broach publicly. Noting the recent spike in the Monmouth County youth suicide rate — currently the highest in New Jersey; tied with Bergen County with 23 out of 234 in 2011 — the local chapter of the Junior League decided to address the often “hushed” issue during Suicide Prevention Month in a special community forum held on Friday, September 25.

A group of panelists — including Ms. Liss, clinical supervisor for The SOURCE program at Red Bank Regional High School — shared experiences, best practices and resources with their audience to better understand the signs and symptoms of suicide, as well as responses that included school intervention.

New Jersey still happens to have one of the lowest youth suicide rates in comparison to the rest of the United States, attributable to the state’s low percentage of gun ownership, a consequence of New Jersey’s strong gun control laws.

In 2005, the New Jersey legislature passed Senate bill no. 2622, a suicide prevention law, in response to the growing number of teenage suicides. The law requires that schools create and present student suicide awareness programs for students and provide suicide prevention training for teachers, who are often a major line of defense in observing warning signs of suicide. The SOURCE at RBR, in conjunction with the school’s health education classes began implementing a Signs of Suicide (SOS) program in 2004, in response to a student who died by suicide.

The SOURCE, one of only 80 school-based mental health programs in the state, employs licensed Clinicians, who are able to screen students at risk and recommend the appropriate level of care to address the students’ needs. The focus is on prevention, intervention, and in the unfortunate case of a death by suicide, Postvention.  Ms. Liss is also a co-leader of the RBR Crisis Team, comprised of Source Clinicians, Guidance, CST, Administrators and teachers, who have developed Policy, Procedures and Protocols to respond to sudden deaths such as suicide. The Crisis Team is trained to respond to a student suicide by a planned Postvention, with the goal of identifying additional students who may be at risk and therefore reduce the likelihood of a “copycat” suicide or contagion.

When school is not is session, and between the most vulnerable hours of midnight to early morning, Ms. Liss encourages at-risk students to reach out to 2nd Floor, the Suicide prevention hotline. She encourages her students to enter the hotline number in their phones. Parents are also provided with 24 hour help through Children’s Mobile Response and Stabilization Services.

“It is heartbreaking, but despite a school and communities best efforts sometimes a suicide occurs,” Ms. Liss commented, “then, the most important step is reducing contagion and providing postvention protocols to prevent copy-cat situations.”

Stacy Doumas, MD, a psychiatrist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, presented the statistics and facts on youth suicide defined as ages 15 to 24; with the suicide rate increasing as teens age.  Dr. Doumas stated that once the risks are identified, protections to prevent suicide include making sure the young person is safe in providing appropriate supervision and eliminating access to dangers such as deadly medications. Then treatment must be sought to address the underlying psychological issues.

She continued that while students are grieving and want to honor the memory of a student they cared about, a fine line must be navigated as not to glorify the student in a way that could inspire imitation of the act.

One of the therapists RBR refers its students to, Alicia Zink, also participated in the JLMC panel. Her practice predominantly encompasses teenagers and families from Monmouth County towns.

She stated, “The biggest risk factor I see in young people is low self-esteem and low confidence, which causes depression. It is influenced by friend groups and pressure from school. Social media has aggravated the situation, making teens feel they are not good enough. That, however, is the hallmark of adolescents, they don’t know who they are while they are trying to differentiate from their parents and don’t have their footing yet; all their friends are struggling with this as well.”

Many of the organizations that provide help to possible suicide victims and their parents participated in the conversation. Some included:

  • 2nd Floor Youth Helpline: 1-888-222-2228
  • Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide: www.sptsusa.org
  • Support Groups for teenagers and parents can be located at National Alliance on Mental Illness, at NAMI.org.
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