Shattering the Stigma: JFCS at the Forefront of Youth Suicide Prevention

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: teen suicide is on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control report that from 1999 through 2017, the suicide rate among all ages increased by 33%. This trend is particularly alarming for girls ages 10 to 14, among whom suicides roughly tripled during this time period. In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24. Think about that for a moment: more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.

While there is no single cause leading to suicide, it most often occurs when life stressors and mental health issues converge to create feelings of hopelessness or despair. Although depression, anxiety, and substance abuse—especially when undiagnosed and untreated—increase the risk, suicide is rarely a complete surprise. In fact, four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given warning signs, either through their words or their actions. Some of the most common warning signs among youth are talking about or making plans for suicide; expressing hopelessness about the future; displaying overwhelming emotional distress; showing worrisome changes in behavior; withdrawing from friends and social situations; changes in sleep (either too much or too little); anger or hostility that seems out of character; and increased agitation or irritability.

The good news is that, in many cases, suicide is preventable. Parents can help protect their children by fostering supportive and involved relationships, understanding the warning signs and risk factors, and knowing where to turn for help. Teachers and school administrators who interact with students every day are in a prime position to recognize those who may be at risk and respond appropriately. Here in South Jersey, JFCS plays an important role in youth suicide prevention by responding to our community’s evolving mental health needs. We provide children and adolescents, ages 6 through 18, with support and coping skills to achieve emotional health and improved functioning. Our expert counselors and therapists foster an integrative approach that includes parents in the treatment plan, encouraging consistency and support at home.

In addition to our on-site counseling services, JFCS reaches out into our community to shine a much-needed light on mental health issues. Since 2016, we have partnered with local police departments, school districts, and mental health clinicians to offer This Life Counts (TLC), a suicide prevention and awareness program that aims to to shatter the stigma of talking about suicide, long considered a taboo subject, by educating families about key warning signs and risk factors. Each TLC presentation features a panel of experts who guide attendees to a place of understanding and validation, sharing resources to stay aware and get involved if someone they care about is at risk.

TLC has already reached more 400 students, parents, and teachers, but we want to go even farther in stopping the scourge of suicide. For the 2019-2020 school year, JFCS will be partnering with several school districts, including Voorhees and Cherry Hill, to integrate TLC into their behavioral health curriculum for middle school and high school students. This will enable us to reach an even greater number of students and continue this vitally important conversation. It is our hope that at some vulnerable point in the future, each TLC participant will think about the program and make a choice that will prevent someone from making a final, tragic choice. The program will launch on September 26 with a free presentation at Kellman Brown Academy. The event is open to the public and all parents, as well as students in grades six through eight, are encouraged to attend. 

September is also National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. All month long, across the country, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members are uniting to promote suicide prevention and awareness. Be sure to check out the JFCS Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages this month for our #ReachOut suicide prevention campaign. We encourage those who are struggling to reach out to parents, friends, or teachers to ask for help–and those who recognize the warning signs to reach out and offer their love and support. 

This Life Counts is sponsored by the Camden County Board of Freeholders