Teen Life Counts: Local organization helps teens speak up about difficult subject
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-24.
Yes, you read that correctly.
“I thought that was pretty shocking when I found out, too,” says Melissa Stewart, coordinator for Jewish Family Services’ Teen Life Counts program. And here in Louisiana, one-in-five teens have seriously considered suicide.
Teen Life Counts has been going into private, public, parochial and charter schools for the past twenty-five years, providing information to teens on the warning signs, what to do if someone they know is suicidal, and where to go for help.
While the warning signs can be direct, such as talking about suicide and the means of doing it, it can often be indirect, says Stewart, “like if someone says, ‘well, it won’t matter, I won’t be here next year.’”
Large changes in behavior, particularly going from very social and outgoing to withdrawn, is another possible warning sign, says Stewart.
“When teenagers are displaying these signs, the person that they’re going to talk to is another teenager rather than an adult,” she adds, “and so I think that’s a barrier…they might tell another teenager but that teenager doesn’t know what to do with the information.”
Sometimes the friend who is expressing distress may then say ‘but don’t tell anybody’, adds Stewart – even threatening that they’ll actually go through with the act if their possible intentions are revealed. “That could put them in a bind, but that’s a big thing that we teach is you have to break that secret. You’d rather lose the friendship than the actual friend.”
There’s also a misconception held by some that if they even bring up the subject of suicide, it may put the idea in their head where it wasn’t previously. That is a myth, Stewart says.
“The best thing to do is to directly ask, ‘have you thought of harming yourself?” And if they say yes, or if they produce means, or it escalates from there, we teach them to get an adult involved immediately or call 911.
Thanks to the generosity of its donors and volunteers, Teen Life Counts reached over 2,700 students in 40 schools last year, at no cost to the schools. Volunteers must be 21 and be willing to speak in front of a class. “We get a lot of clinicians or retired teachers or people who have worked with teens, but that’s not a requirement,” Stewart says. “Basically you just have to have an interest, and of course, pass a background check, and just be really willing to disseminate this information.”
Teen Life Counts and its founder, Ellie Wainer, will be honored at this year’s Jewish Family Service gala, May 21, 2017 at the Audubon Tea Room (6500 Magazine Street), with a portion of the proceeds going directly to TLC. For tickets, or to invite TLC to your school, visit the Jewish Family Services website at www.jfsneworleans.org.
Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.