There is a growing epidemic in the state of New Jersey that desperately needs the attention of us all. From 2007 to 2014 the suicide rate of 10 to 14-year-olds doubled, surpassing the death rate from car crashes. From 2006 to 2014, the suicide rate among 15 to 19-year-olds experienced a 64 percent increase. These numbers are alarming and upsetting, with teen suicide taking more lives than cancer. The youth of our state deserve the support and protection of adults, of the state Legislature, of schools, and of each other.

To combat these tragedies, the Codey Fund for Mental Health is speaking up and taking action. We are calling for the State to issue a 1 million dollar grant to address this crisis. Furthermore, the Codey Fund will commit $80,000 towards lifesaving programs. Established in 2012, the Codey Fund for Mental Health is here to help individuals with mental illness afford the care they need, and to increase awareness of mental health. This mission is close to our hearts, as Mary Jo experienced severe postpartum depression after having our son Kevin, and now spearheads a campaign to raise awareness and support for new mothers like herself. Together, we helped New Jersey become the first state to require hospitals to screen new mothers for postpartum depression. Now, we want to continue that legacy of reaching out to New Jersey’s most vulnerable, providing care and raising awareness. Children as young as ten deserve a childhood defined by peace of mind, and if increased mental health funding and treatment options in school systems can work to ensure this, then New Jersey needs to support these programs.

The grant, administered by the New Jersey Department of Education, would allow for a greater presence of mental health workers in schools, and the training of non-licensed, auxiliary school staff. Teaching school staff to effectively interact with at-risk students and having mental health counselors on site to provide them with the necessary attention will create outlets of support in the place students spend most of their time. 425 middle schoolers, including 5 from New Jersey, took their own lives in 2014. It is our hope that by training school workers to identify and address signs of mental illness in young people, we can stop this epidemic. The Department of Education will designate funding to specific school districts for hiring and training costs, with the specific needs of every community being taken into account. Every child is different and every situation is unique, and careful attention must be paid to ensure schools can support a range of scenarios.

We have approached the Department of Health with our concerns and ideas, and they intend on creating a task force on teenage suicide and depression. By July 2019, the task force is set to make recommendations to the New Jersey State Legislature on how it thinks the state should approach the issue and what funding is necessary. This report will be New Jersey specific and responsive legislative action will work to create long lasting change to stop the epidemic of teen suicide in the state. New Jersey has the opportunity to set a standard of care for other states to follow, and to catalyze a trend in the right direction.

When students are experiencing mental illness and are at-risk of suicide, having a trusted adult to turn to can be life changing and ultimately life saving. If mental health counselors and other staff are known sources of help to students and are available to talk to at school, the likelihood that a student will seek or be directed towards this help increases exponentially. When familiar faces like custodians, security guards, cafeteria workers, and teachers are trained to be an essential part of suicide prevention, students who open up to these trusted adults can receive an effective response. The more accessible help is made, the more likely it will be taken advantage of.

Now is the time to strengthen New Jersey’s approach to rising teen suicide rates, and now is long overdue. The efforts of those who have lost loved ones to this epidemic are the foundation of this cause, and their stories will be heard.