As a young girl, Rebecca Coakley saw her mom and dad divorce, and then her dad pass away.
By age 11, she was taking medication for anxiety and depression, and by age 12, she had effectively lost interest in everything she had ever cared about. She was hospitalised in seventh grade for suicidal ideation.
“I felt like a shell of my former self. I felt like there was no point in living anymore,” Rebecca told New Jersey 101.5.
Today, the 21-year-old New Milford resident is a social work major at Ramapo College of New Jersey and a therapeutic horseback riding instructor on the side.
She said, “I am light years ahead of where I imagined I would be when I was 12.”
And Rebecca gives her mother credit for her continued existence. Her mom “right away called a crisis helpline” when she noticed the signs — she was familiar with them because Rebecca’s sister was suicidal at age 14 (she’s doing well today and is engaged to be married).
“I would advise children to seek assistance even if it seems unnecessary. Parents, I’d say please listen if they ask for help. Don’t write it off,” Rebecca said. “Sometimes when someone cries for help, you get one chance.”
According to Rebecca, the majority of the work involved in addressing a child’s emotional and behavioural needs takes place at home; however, schools can also assist in monitoring the mental health of today’s youth.
Addressing Teen Suicide
On March 2, the New Jersey Senate Education Committee held a hearing on the subject of adolescent suicide. It was held one month after the suicide of Adriana Kuch, a high school freshman in Ocean County who killed herself after a video of her being viciously attacked in the school hallway surfaced online.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 15 to 24 on a national scale.
The rate of children experiencing a mental health crisis has jumped by about 20% over the past year for CarePlus NJ in Bergen County.
“Basically what we’re seeing is an increased rate of suicidal ideation amongst teenagers,” said Dana Czachorowski, senior director for Care Plus NJ’s Children’s Mobile Response.
Czachorowski stated that numerous factors contribute to the rise in the number of youth in crisis. The prevalence of social media is a major difference between the present and the past; bullying and pressures do not end when the school day ends.
“Everyone is expected to have a highlight reel of all the exciting and entertaining activities in their personal lives,” she said.
While an attempt at suicide can be an impulsive decision in some cases, parents can look for a prolonged change (one week or longer) in their child’s behaviour as a potential sign of depression, Czachorowski said. A child doesn’t have to experience significant trauma, like Rebecca, to fall into depressive state.
She regularly tells the adults she works with to make sure that they spend “quality time” with their kids. Even something as simple as instituting a “no phones at dinner” rule can improve family communication and bonding.
“The quality of a person’s relationships will be the most important factor in determining their health,” she said. For children, this includes their family and close friends.