Youth suicide program held at Eastern Regional

As mental illness, stress and anxiety continues to affect young students, Eastern Regional welcomed a program aimed at opening the conversation in hopes of helping others

School Resource Officer Chase Waldman with the Voorhees Police Department speaks about how police officers react to 911 calls regarding depression and/or suicide

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States. On average, there are more than 100 suicides per day, with males being the most likely to attempt to take their own life.

On Thursday, March 7, at Eastern Regional High School, a panel of trained professionals discussed the topic of youth suicide with school officials, concerned parents and community members to try to offer some answers on how to help those who may be in need.

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The presentation was presented by the Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Service, the Berlin-Gibbsboro-Voorhees Municipal Alliance and the Voorhees Police Department, with community sponsors such as Berlin Community School and the Gloucester Township Police Department.

Although Eastern Regional has not had a confirmed student suicide in the past few years, school administration recently began seeking out how to provide students with additional resources to better treat those suffering from depression or anxiety, something that has skyrocketed, according to Superintendent Harold Melleby Jr.

Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Service Executive Director Marla Meyers helped bring to fruition “This Life Counts” about four years ago after speaking with the Cherry Hill chief of police. Meyers was concerned with the rise of teen and youth suicide and worked with trained professionals and presenters to develop a program that addresses concerns and allows for questions from the public on how to recognize warning signs.

“It’s our quest to increase conversations in families, we want to make it OK for kids to come forward if they’re not feeling OK,” Meyers said. “And we want parents to understand that they have to figure out the ways that they can be accessible to their kids.”

Eastern Regional Board of Education member Elena Chow and Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Service Executive Director Marla Meyers open the program Thursday night

The panel discussed multiple topics, including warning signs, risks and stressors, the role of depression, ways to protect youth from suicide, and the various resources and tools for communication to make reaching out easier for children who may be hesitant.

Although it can be an uncomfortable topic for many, the program seeks to normalize the discussion in the hopes of helping pull those in need out of depression.

“The only way to truly confront this silent epidemic is to talk about it and to talk about how to protect our families,” said Eastern Regional Board of Education member Elena Chow.

The panel spoke for more than an hour, hitting on various important topics regarding youth suicide. With every student being different, panelists stressed the message that warning signs are not the same in every case; most importantly, licensed psychologists stressed that a large indicator for parents to watch for is drastic changes in a child’s normal behavior.

School Resource Officer Chase Waldman with the Voorhees Police Department was also on the panel, discussing the training police officers go through and how the department reacts in such an instance, while also advocating for safety around the house.

According to Waldman, firearms and medication should be either properly stored or disposed of so as to not present a risk for youth. Waldman stated that 85 percent of suicide attempts by gun are successful, so weapons should be stored in a safe place, such as a safe, and medication should be in safe location and later disposed of, such as being dropped off at the collection point at the Voorhees Police Department, once expired.

Although the conversation can often be difficult for parents to have with their children, the panel stressed the importance of being open to talk about issues and reaching out. Resources are available, including the Crisis Text Line at 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273-TALK.

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