Suicide prevention program launched for K-12
As suicides continue to increase in New Jersey, a new nationwide suicide prevention program provides training for all school employees to help them spot at-risk students earlier.
"Signs Matter: Early Detection," teaches school personnel not only how to recognize the signs, but also the actions to take. The two-hour online course can be applied to all schools, including elementary, middle and high schools.
The program was created by Legal One, Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"I think the message from 'Signs Matter' is that you can make a difference," said Maureen Brogan, the statewide traumatic loss coalition coordinator at UBHC.
The program is not just for teaches and guidance counselors, but also for support staff and administrators. Brogan said coaches, lunch aides and school bus drivers can all pick up on suicide danger signals.
Brogan said the program is gleaned from feedback that they received through all 21 New Jersey counties, and there's a New Jersey specific version of "Signs Matter," something that can be done for other states as well to match their individual needs.
Through the development of the course, researchers realized that most existing suicide prevention programs focused on adolescents, and that nothing existed for younger kids.
"We decided to address the entire K-12 community because elementary school personnel can recognize trouble signs in younger students and mitigate later problems," Brogan said.
The training examines common mental health problems and how they could present themselves through three vignettes set in elementary, middle and high schools. The course includes expert analysis, resources for understanding a school's role in suicide prevention and a review of a school's legal obligations.
The course also includes a bullying scenario.
"We are very careful that people understand that bullying is not a cause and effect. This video and training also tells people that this is what we need to recognize with bullying, however, if you are bullied it does not mean that you are going to become suicidal. It is a risk factor and things that we want to pay attention to, but it is not a cause and effect relationship," Brogan said.
The online course is not telling school staff to treat the child directly, but connects them with services that children can benefit from.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth age 10 to 24 in New Jersey, according to the 2014 Youth Suicide Report by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. There were 232 suicides in the Garden State by people age 10 to 24 between 2011 and 2013.
Despite those numbers, New Jersey has the lowest suicide rate in the nation.
"The good news for New Jersey is that New Jersey is the 50th state. I do not want anyone to think for a minute that in the state that this (suicide) is an epidemic. It is nowhere near epidemic proportions," Brogan said. "Any loss of life is one too many."