The Morris County Board of Freeholders have collaborated with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris to introduce a universal, school-based suicide prevention program for middle and high school aged students who may be feeling stress and isolation during the current COVID-19 restrictions.
Freeholder Kathryn DeFillippo, the board liaison to Human Services agencies and programs, sent a letter to school superintendents throughout Morris County inviting them to assign three key school district personnel, ranging from counselors and teachers and to administrative staff, to learn more about the program through virtual presentations beginning Dec. 1, 2020.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic began in New Jersey, stay at home orders, self-quarantines, social distancing and virtual learning were implemented to combat the virus. While these practices helped reduce the spread of COVID-19, they also induced anxiety, depression, fear, and loneliness among members of the community including school aged young adults,” DeFillippo wrote in the letter.
“These types of feelings may lead to mental health concerns and suicide ideations, which may only increase the longer your students are isolated from family, friends, teachers, and the school community at large. Due to these concerns, the Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Morris took a proactive step and collaborated with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris to introduce the Signs of Suicide (SOS) Program for all Morris County School Districts,” DeFillippo added.
Following a June 2020 survey of 5,412 people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August that one in four 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 percent saying they experienced a mental or behavioral health condition connected to the COVID-19 emergency.
DeFillippo wrote that SOS is a universal, school-based prevention program designed for middle school and high school students, ages 11 through 17 years old. The program attempts to decrease suicide and suicide attempts by increasing student knowledge, ending 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 non-profit behavioral healthcare and human services organization based in eastern Massachusetts.
The virtual presentation will instruct participants how the program may be implemented to address the increase in anxiety depression, fear, loneliness, and thoughts of suicide young adults may be experiencing. The participants also will receive an overview of suicide warning signs, risk factors, and tips on “how to start the conversation.”
Presentations are being made available on Dec. 8 and 15.