By Jen Egan
For many, the “back-to-school” season can mean new beginnings, new friends and welcomed new adventures. But for some kids, returning to school produces anxiety and dread, particularly if they are being bullied or marginalized. Currently, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10 – 24.
Very soon, Monmouth County educators will have an improved resource at their disposal from The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide (SPTS). Its Behavioral Health Toolkit, which has been provided in pamphlet form to parents and caregivers looking for guidance on common mental health issues, warning signs and resources, is being digitized for easier access and wider distribution.
SPTS, whose mission it is to increase awareness, save lives and reduce the stigma of suicide, has been pivotal to making educators partners in suicide prevention. They have encouraged superintendents, teachers and counselors to start conversations with students about their mental health just like they do with physical health. In 2006, SPTS helped pass legislation in New Jersey requiring all educators to complete at least two hours of instruction in suicide prevention as part of their professional development requirement.
The Behavioral Health Toolkit is a comprehensive, yet concise list of what to do, what to ask and what to expect, and it has been well received in the school system. Gina Rabone, a student assistance counselor in a Monmouth County school district, estimates she has distributed nearly 3,000 tool kits. In paper form though, its potential to serve the community at large has been limited. This valuable resource is about to go digital thanks to an Impact 100 Jersey Coast grant that SPTS was awarded in November. This funding enables SPTS to put the pamphlet online and on phones so that everyone can access this critical information easily.
“The digital tool kit fills a real gap in the mental health system,” said Susan Tellone, SPTS Clinical Director. “It allows us to reach and save so many lives. It is a game changer in terms of prevention.”
Dawn Doherty, SPTS Executive Director, has kept our grant committee informed of its progress moving online. This past winter, the SPTS team built a new web platform and revised the toolkit content and transformed it into a more dynamic product. The summer was spent producing a promotional video to introduce the toolkit to schools and making enhancements to deliver a more personalized user experience with engaging content.
Tellone is scheduled to present at the Monmouth County Superintendents’ Roundtable Meeting on Friday, September 29 when the digital toolkit will be launched. Monmouth County schools will be ready to distribute the promotional video in October once the busy nature of the start of the school year subsides.
“I think the toolkit going digital will be amazing,” said Rabone. “Parents on high alert with a child in crisis will have all of the materials, like agencies to call and questions to ask, right at their fingertips at a time when they may not be processing everything.”
“I am still beyond excited and grateful about the grant,” says Tellone. “We can’t do this without people like Impact 100 members. This made something that was a hope and a dream, a reality for us.”
September marks National Suicide Prevention Month, and SPTS will be hosting the Women of Wellness & Wonder luncheon on Friday, September 29 at Navesink Country Club honoring Impact 100 member and grantee Marilyn Schlossbach as Woman of the Year. Tickets are available here.
The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide (SPTS)
Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide is dedicated to increasing awareness, saving lives and reducing the stigma of suicide through specialized mental health training programs and resources that empower students, parents, schools, and communities with the skills needed to help youth build lives of resiliency.
Help build a platform for the digital distribution of the Behavioral Health Toolkit (BHT), currently only available in print, is an upstream suicide prevention resource that delivers compassionate, family centered, and competency-building education.