As a young girl, Rebecca Coakley saw her mom and dad divorce, and then her dad pass away.

By age 11, she was on medication for anxiety and depression, and by age 12, she had isolated herself from friends and family, and lost interest in essentially anything she had ever cared about. In the seventh grade, she was hospitalized for suicidal ideation.

"I felt like a shell of who I used to be. I felt like there was no point in living anymore," Rebecca told New Jersey 101.5.

Fast forward to today, the 21-year-old New Milford resident is a full-time student at Ramapo College of New Jersey, majoring in social work, while working part-time as a therapeutic horseback riding instructor.

"I am leaps and bounds above where I thought I would've been, back when I was 12," she said.

And Rebecca credits her mother for the fact that she's still here today. Her mom "right away called a crisis helpline" when she noticed the signs — she was familiar with them because Rebecca's sister was suicidal at age 14 (she's doing well today and is engaged to be married).

"Kids, I'd say please ask for help, even if it seems pointless. Parents, I'd say please listen if they ask for help. Don't write it off," Rebecca said. "Sometimes when someone cries for help, you get one chance."

According to Rebecca, a lot of the work involved with addressing a child's emotional and behavioral needs happens at home, but schools can also help to keep tabs on the mental health of today's youth.

Addressing teen suicide

The topic of teen suicide was the focus of a hearing by the New Jersey Senate Education Committee on Mar. 2. It was held one month after the death of Adriana Kuch, a high school freshman in Ocean County who took her own life after video surfaced online of her being brutally attacked by her peers in a school hallway.

Nationally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among peopled aged 15 to 24.

The rate of children experiencing a mental health crisis has jumped by about 20% over the past year for CarePlus NJ in Bergen County.

"Basically what we're seeing is an increased rate of suicidal ideation amongst teenagers," said Dana Czachorowski, senior director for Care Plus NJ's Children's Mobile Response.

There are many factors contributing to an increase in the rate of youth in crisis, Czachorowski said. One big difference today compared to years ago is the prevalence of social media — bullying and pressures don't stop when the final bell rings at school.

"Everybody is expected to have a highlight reel of everything exciting and fun that they're doing in their own personal lives," she said.

While an attempt at suicide can be an impulsive decision in some cases, parents can look for a prolonged change (one week or longer) in their child's behavior as a potential sign of depression, Czachorowski said. A child doesn't have to experience significant trauma, like Rebecca, to fall into depressive state.

She regularly tells the adults she works with to make sure that they spend "quality time" with their kids. Even a move as simple as making a "no phones at dinner" rule can improve communication and connection among family members.

"The No. 1 determination of a person's wellness is going to be the quality of the relationships that they have," she said. "For kids, that's with their family and their close friends."

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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