Education, Access to Care Essential to Foster Recovery from Mental Health Disorders, Addictions

September Is National Recovery Month and National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Suicide is a growing problem globally and often the result of untreated mental health disorders. It is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and the second leading cause of death in this age group in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Stigma is the most common reason why individuals with mental health disorders do not seek treatment; limited access to care is another significant factor in not receiving treatment. Individuals with untreated mental health disorders may self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs, which could lead to addictions. Bullying and intolerance of individuals' differences also can be factors in substance use and development of mental health issues. These topics will be addressed at Back to School: Take a Breath, the Fourth Annual National Suicide Prevention Day Conference co-sponsored by the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA) and Attitudes In Reverse® (AIR™). This event will take place on September 12, 2016, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, New Jersey Child Welfare Training Academy in New Brunswick, NJ.

The conference will begin with a keynote presentation on the impact of trauma on classroom learning by George Scott, EdS, LMFT, Statewide Resource Coordinator, Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth.

Bullying is one type of trauma and while it does not directly cause suicide, it can lead to or exacerbate depression, anxiety and feelings of rejection and isolation. These feelings can then lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior. In recognition of this serious issue, the conference will focus on trauma, bullying, coping and acceptance.

"Bullying and trauma are very serious and pervasive issues, and education is essential for educators and healthcare providers to address them proactively and with sensitivity," said Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of NJAMHAA, a statewide trade association representing community-based providers of mental healthcare and substance use disorder treatment and support services. "

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bullying "has serious and lasting negative effects on the mental health and overall well-being of youth involved in bullying," including bullies, victims and bully-victims, who both bully others and are bullied by others. Bully-victims have the highest risk for suicide-related behavior, compared to those who are either bullies or victims, but not both, the CDC noted.

Another high-risk group are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth because they are among the most vulnerable to being bullied and, therefore, have a higher risk of suicide related to bullying, according to the CDC. The increased suicide risk among LGBT youth is twice as high as the risk among their heterosexual peers, the CDC reported.

Kurt Baker, CFP®, and Tricia Baker, CPDT-KA Co-Founders of AIR, will present on acceptance and coping skills and describe Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA), a national evidence-based program for which they are certified instructors.

"Encouraging kindness and acceptance among youth is so important. We try to reinforce these qualities, as well as understanding and empathy, through our In Their Shoes™ exhibit," Kurt Baker said. This exhibit, which will be on display at the conference, consists primarily of 234 shoes, representing the same number of New Jersey youth, age 10 to 24 years, who had lost hope and taken their own lives between 2011 and 2013, according to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF). Each pair of shoes has a tag on it with a statement representing the struggles individuals with mental health disorders experience. AIR's exhibit will be growing to match the sad recent increase in youth suicide: DCF reported that 265 youth died by suicide between 2012 and 2014.

AIR recently added a "VIP" section to this exhibit with shoes donated by influential individuals in and related to the mental health field, including Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, DCF Commissioner Allison Blake and Dr. Wentz from NJAMHAA. About a dozen pairs of shoes have been donated by cast and crew members of the popular television show, Supernatural, who have been supporting AIR since July 2015. The tags on these shoes have influential statements on them. For example, the message from Jared Padalecki, star of Supernatural, is "Always keep fighting" and Congressman Kennedy's message is "The fight to save 'beautiful minds' can get pretty ugly."

"We feel fortunate and are very grateful for everyone's involvement. Having the shoes and support of Congressman Kennedy, Commissioner Blake and other State officials, whom we have been working with in the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and leaders in the field such as Dr. Wentz, as well as the Supernatural actors and staff is a blessing. It has helped us become much more visible throughout New Jersey and across the nation and supports our mission of educating more youth and saving more lives," Tricia Baker said.

The conference will also include a panel discussion with youth, who will share how they have coped with intolerance and bullying and it will be moderated by Phillip McCabe, CSW, CAS, CDVC, DRCC, Health Educator, Rutgers University School of Public Health.

During the event, NJAMHAA and AIR will honor the sponsors of the Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act, which Governor Chris Christie recently signed into law. Named after a New Jersey high school track star and Ivy League college student who took her own life in January 2014, the law requires New Jersey colleges to have professionals with mental health training available for students around the clock.

In addition, Mark Farrell, Motivational Speaker, will provide inspiration for overcoming challenges and living a full life, based on his personal experiences.

To register for this free event, click here.

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