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As Students Return to School, It Is More Important than Ever to Break Down Barriers to Treatment


Suicide Prevention Week is September 5th to September 11th

On August 28, 2021, 19-year-old former child actor Matthew Mindler, most famous for his role in the film "Our Idiot Brother", was found dead in a wooded area near Millersville University, where he was a freshman. The Pennsylvania Coroner's Office concluded that Mindler died by suicide. Unfortunately, Matthew's story is a common one. According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, there are more than 5,400 suicide attempts made by young people in grades seven through 12 every year. Additionally, four out of five teenagers who attempted suicide have given clear warning signs.

As students are returning to in-person schooling, mental health needs to be at the forefront of discussions, especially as the ongoing impact of the pandemic can make transition from being primarily at home to being back at school difficult for many students. As mental health struggles can increase risk of suicide, especially if they are not promptly and adequately addressed, National Suicide Prevention Week (September 5th to September 11th) and the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc.'s (NJAMHAA's) and Attitudes In Reverse®'s (AIR™'s) 9th Annual Suicide Prevention Conference, Back to School: Breaking the Barriers, help bring much needed attention to these critical issues.

Experts say that there was an increase in suicide attempts among young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been due to social isolation and families experiencing instability, which could result from parents' stress related to financial struggles and health-related concerns. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that suicide attempts that resulted in emergency room visits between February 21 and through March 20, 2021, were 50.6 percent higher among girls between the ages of 12 and 17 years than during the same period in 2019. Among boys between the ages of 12 and 17 years, emergency room visits due to suspected suicide attempts increased by 3.7 percent compared to the number in 2019.

"The return to in-person schooling can be challenging and unsettling for some students. School personnel must consider mental health in their plans. This includes providing resources and school-based mental health services, such as those made available through School-Based Youth Service Programs (SBYSPs), and connecting students and families to mental health treatment professionals. The earlier that these resources can be accessed, the better it is for the students, as delays in treatment can result in worsened symptoms and suicide risk," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA). "It is fitting that the return to school in New Jersey coincides with National Suicide Prevention Week, which seeks to educate the general public about the warning sides of suicide and suicide prevention. We have a unique opportunity to reduce stigma around mental illness and suicide and encourage positive mental health practices. This situation also reinforces the importance of ensuring that SBYSPs, which offer these and other critical services, are maintained, funded and expanded to serve even more students."

Educators, school administrators, healthcare providers and others can partake in a conversation about suicide prevention by attending NJAMHAA and AIR's 9th Annual Suicide Prevention Conference, Back to School: Breaking the Barriers, which will be held virtually on September 20, 2021, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EST. NJAMHAA and AIR are grateful to the co-sponsors of this event: Hackensack Meridian Carrier Clinic, the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - New Jersey Chapter.

"These partnerships enable us to present this critical information to everyone who works with children, as well as parents. This event and National Suicide Prevention Week present an opportunity to discuss mental health and suicide, which can lead to ways to prevent suicide and increase access to mental health resources," Tricia Baker, YMHFA, CPDT-KA, and Kurtis Baker, YMHFA, CFP®, Co-Founders of AIR.

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