By Jason Cohen
With teen suicide on the rise throughout the state, Senator Richard Codey (D-Livingston), recently unveiled a $1 million plan to combat depression and help educate people on mental health.
On July 1, the former governor introduced a bill that will award a $1 million grant within the NJ Department of Education (DOE) for school districts to hire mental health counselors.
The NJ Department of Health will determine which school districts are awarded grants. The DOE will report on progress by 2021. There will be specialized training workshops to non-licensed, auxiliary school staff who interact with students and a creation of a statewide “Teen Suicide and Depression Task Force” charged with developing additional methods to combat teen suicide and depression and report back to the state legislature by July 2019.
“School workers such as secretaries, security guards and teacher’s aides need the tools and training to recognize bullying, early warning signs and symptoms of mental health issues, and the proper steps to resolve conflict and prevent potential disasters,” declared Governor Codey at a press conference at Liberty Middle School in West Orange in May.
According to the New Jersey Youth Suicide Report, 2,731 people age 10 to 24 were treated in an emergency room for non-fatal suicide attempts/self-inflicted injuries from 2013 to 2015. Also, according to the New Jersey Dept. of Health, from 2007 to 2016, suicides among children ages 10 to 18 rose by 16.6 percent.
“Too many young lives are being lost,” Codey said at the press conference. “New Jersey must act now to better equip all school employees to help identify at-risk students and prevent teen suicides and other mental health related incidents in their schools.”
Codey and his wife, Mary Jo Codey, have been involved with mental health since 2012 when they established the Codey Fund for Mental Health. The organization’s goal is to educate people about mental health and provide quality treatment for individuals with mental illness.
Mary Jo has dealt with depression and Codey has met with many parents who have lost kids to suicide, including Dianne Grossman of Rockaway, whose daughter Mallory took her own life at age 12 in June 2017 and Rachelle St. Phard, whose son Coby committed suicide in March 2016 at age 18.
The governor has been surrounded by death most of his life. He is the owner of Codey and Jones Funeral Home in Caldwell, but noted that he has never seen so saw many young people die until recently.
Codey feels that social media is a huge factor in teen depression and suicide. Instead of being outside with friends or being active, bullying follows kids home onto Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook, making their lives even worse, he said.
With the recent suicides of designer Kate Spade and renowned chef, Anthony Bourdain, depression can affect anyone, he said. The governor hopes these deaths may get people to talk about depression.
“The biggest thing for mental health is to overcome the stigma of depression,” he said. “Teenage suicide is not a comfortable issue for people to talk about.”