Education specialist returns to Diocese for youth suicide discussion
By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
Concerned parents gathered April 16 in the library of Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, for a “Raising Healthy Teens” presentation led by education specialist George Scott, a licensed marital and family therapist from the Center for Counseling Services, Mercer County.
During the talk, his second in the Diocese in the past four months, Scott discussed how suicide remains the third leading cause of death for New Jersey youth ages 10 to 24. A similar discussion by Scott was held in St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square, in December.
“The administration is concerned about the well- being of your children,” he said as he thanked Notre Dame interim president Mary Liz Ivins for inviting him to speak.
Recognizing that the Notre Dame High School community has suffered from recent teen suicides, he said, “We need to increase the understanding of the problem of youth suicide, know the risk factors and warning signs, and understand the treatments and intervention of suicidal behavior.”
He pointed out that suicide is a public health problem and outlined where peaks in suicide occur in a human’s lifetime, including ages 10-24, 45-55 and 75-90.
“Helping survivors deal with the loss and grief in an appropriate way is important for everyone,” Scott stressed. “We need to be sensitive to the survivors of suicide loss. The stigma of suicide reinforces the silence around suicide.”
That sentiment was echoed by those in the crowd, notably Rachelle St. Phard, who lost a son to suicide. Jacob J. “Coby” St. Phard was a senior soccer player at Notre Dame High school who had committed to playing soccer at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania when he was killed by a train in March 2016. His death was later ruled a suicide.
“I want to learn as much as I can and to help any way I can. As a parent who has gone through it, my perspective is a little different than the others,” said St. Phard, who manages the nonprofit Fly High Coby. In addition to suicide prevention and raising awareness to mental health issues, the organization provides scholarships to qualifying students from Notre Dame High School or Hightstown High School, both of which her son attended.
Scott outlined behaviors that serve as “red flags” in suicide cases, including: irritability, anger, hostility, self-injury, extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, frequent complaints of physical illness, frequent absences/tardiness to school or work, a decrease in school or work performance, temper outbursts and blaming, bullying or intimidating, aggression, and physical cruelty, isolation and/or use of drugs and alcohol to ease the pain.
Acknowledging that “about 90 percent of people who die by suicide have some type of mental health problem,” he also discussed underlying vulnerabilities. These include mood disorders, substance abuse, anxiety and sexual orientation that can be exacerbated when a stress event occurs. “This can cause anxiety, dread hopelessness and anger,” he said.
He encouraged the roughly 50 people in attendance to be strong support teams for those considered at risk. “The presence of others can often slow down their mental state and anxiousness, increasing their chances of suicide survival.”
He also encouraged parents to listen to their children. “Many individuals who attempt suicide plan in advance. Observe,” he said. “Have you noticed a warning sign? Pay attention to your gut feelings and ask directly about suicidal feelings.”
He cautioned parents to remain calm when speaking to their children and offer a message of hope.
“Don’t minimize their feelings,” he said. “Don’t rely on their promises. Don’t leave them alone – always believe change is possible.”
After the presentation, the crowd had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss resources. The entire program was recorded and will be available on the school’s website.
“It’s a complex topic,” shared one mother who wished to remain anonymous. “My motivation … as a parent is to keep my kids healthy and well.”
Another parent who also wished not to be identified echoed that sentiment, saying it’s important for children to be happy and healthy. “If they are healthy, the happy will follow. We need to think of their physical and mental health.”[[In-content Ad]]