⚫ A NJ based organization is dedicated to reducing the stigma of youth suicide

⚫ It provides mental health resources and training programs to empower kids

⚫ Nurses may be the key in helping to prevent youth suicides in NJ

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that the number of suicides in the U.S. hit an all-time high in 2022, a New Jersey-based organization said it is dedicated to increasing awareness and reducing the signs of stigma.

What is happening in New Jersey in regards to youth suicide?

In 2019, suicide was the 14th leading cause of death among all New Jersey residents, and for youth ages 10 to 24, suicide was the third leading cause of death in the state, according to The New Jersey Department of Children and Families.

But while there has been a slight downward trend in youth suicide deaths since 2019, there has been an increase of youth in emergency rooms with suicide ideation, said Susan Tellone, clinical director of The Society for The Prevention of Teen Suicide in Freehold.

The organization is dedicated to increasing awareness and reducing the signs of the stigma of suicide through specialized training programs and mental health resources that empower children and teens.

Education and training have had positive effects on children in New Jersey contemplating suicide, she said.

“People are beginning to recognize warning signs, they’re beginning to talk to kids about what’s going on with them, and they’re recognizing early on that they are in trouble. They’re bringing them to emergency rooms. That’s what we’re seeing and it’s a positive thing in a lot of ways, but we still have a lot more work to do,” Tellone said.

SPTS’s mission is to educate and train people about what suicide is (a place of intense emotional pain where someone is looking to end the pain).

“The more we understand it, the more we educate about what it really is, the more we won’t shy away from these conversations but to, rather lean into these conversations,” she said.


How can parents help?

It’s important for parents, caregivers, teachers, and others to ask the question: “Are you okay? I’ve noticed a change.” “I can’t help but mention this to you. Let’s have a conversation.” Be sure to listen to what the young person has to say. Listen without judgment and maybe, don’t give too much advice, Tellone said.

Sometimes kids don’t have an observable ego. They may not see that they’re sinking into a depression, changing, or withdrawing. They don’t even realize it. So, helping a child to see what you’re seeing, can be very helpful. That’s when a conversation can begin, Tellone said.

Let them know that it’s okay to talk about mental health in the same ways that they talk about their physical health. Tellone said kids oftentimes have no issue talking about their headaches or sore throats. What they don’t realize is that headaches, stomach aches, and sore throats without fever, can be signs of depression or anxiety, she added.
It’s important to help children understand that physical symptoms can mean that they are struggling emotionally.

fizkes GettyImages
fizkes GettyImages

How can nurses help children contemplating suicide?

Nurses are on the frontlines, Tellone said. They work with kids who are going through a traumatic experience whether it’s physical or emotional.

“They are beginning a relationship with this nurse. It’s a trusting relationship, and oftentimes nurses are in the key position to talk with these kids and kids will talk with them in the moments as they’re taking care of them. These kids start to open up,” Tellone said.

So, if nurses can be trained to have these conversations with more confidence and more competence, they will begin to change lives and be able to identify these kids as having significant issues, Tellone said.

The idea is for nurses to then bring in a psychiatric consult, or have a family discussion just to open the door to a conversation and help reduce the stigma about teen suicide.

Ridofranz GettyImages
Ridofranz GettyImages

What does the pilot program expansion include?

This year, SPTS was chosen as one of The Morgan Stanley Alliance Innovation Award winners, receiving a $100,000 grant to expand their pilot program to train nurses to provide life-saving resources to children in medical settings.

Under the pilot program expansion, nurses will be able to provide mental health toolkits to children in medical settings.

The toolkits help families talk about what to expect, what to look for, how to reach out for help, what’s available in the community, and how to have these conversations with their children.

These nurses can give the toolkits to families so that when they leave the hospital, go home, and calm down after being overwhelmed, they can look through the kits to see what they need and where to begin.

The toolkits are like a navigation as to where to begin in the mental health system.
“We also have a behavioral health toolkit that we give out to schools. We just recently received funding from Impact 100 to put this behavioral health toolkit out in Monmouth County through a QR code in six different languages,” Tellone said.

It is available in the physical form in middle and high schools. It will be available digitally, as well.

“We want people to understand that no matter what their situation is financially, they can get their children help through performed care and the children system care in New Jersey,” Tellone said.

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