The Morris County Board of Freeholders has teamed up with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris to introduce a Signs of Suicide Prevention Program for middle and high school students, especially during the pandemic where many kids feel isolated and stressed.

Freeholder Kathryn DeFillippo said the SOS program not only attempts to decrease suicide and suicide attempts but it also increases student knowledge and ends stigma, encouraging personal help-seeking and engaging parents and school staff as partners in prevention.

SOS was developed by a behavioral health service linked to Riverside Community Care, a nonprofit behavioral healthcare and human services organization based in eastern Massachusetts.

Following a June 2020 survey of more than 5,000 people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August that 1 in 4 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 said they had considered suicide because of the pandemic. The survey indicated a general spike in anxiety and substance abuse among the respondents, with more than 40% saying they experienced mental or behavioral health condition connected to the pandemic.

DeFillippo said any school district in Morris County is invited to join the program, learn about the presentations and webinars and grow it in their schools.

She said they are seeking students, parents, teachers and all school staff to stay engaged and watch for signs of suicide and bring it to someone's attention.

As COVID-19 increases, students don't know from one minute to the next what will happen. Many feel stressed and anxious but help is out there.

"I can't stress more that Morris County is a stigma-free community. We want to prove that. We want to show people that we're here to help and save the lives of young students who maybe thinking that they can't go on any longer," said DeFillippo.

It's really important that the school districts get involved and they grow the program to get the students involved, she added.

DeFillippo said virtual presentations have already started. Three more are slated for Dec. 4, 8 and 15 but she expects more to come as interest continues to generate. She said while many schools have expressed interest, she said the county might be aggressive, physically calling all the schools to get the word out about this suicide prevention program.

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