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New program to prevent teen suicides

February 19, 2009 2:47:51 PM PST
"There's no way I could ever find words to tell you how much it hurt," says Jane Toskovich. "Oh my God." Jane Toskovich lost her 17-year-old son, Zack, just over two years ago when he committed suicide by jumping to his death from the top of Glen Rock High School in New Jersey. Jane says the family never suspected Zack, an honor student, was so depressed, until they found a suicide note. "He felt pressured to do better in school, to have a better personality, to be better looking and he just talked about how alone he was. It was terrible," she says.

The recent suicide of another teen at the Dalton School highlights very troubling research. Says Dr. Christopher Lucas of NYU's Child Study Center, "Every year one in ten students in high school attempts suicide. Around 25 per cent of high school students think about suicide at some point in a year."

The NYU Child Study Center has launched a web-based test program, for teens and their parents, to determine students who may be at risk.

"Walking through the halls," said student Christopher Ayers, "you might not know who's feeling what. I mean, people often put up facades. But I believe that it is a definite problem in teenage or youth life."

The program is being piloted in four New York state school districts in Rockland and Orange counties. The web site is a tool for educators required to cover mental health issues in their health classes.

Health teacher Susan Maher uses the program with students at Tappan Zee High School in Orangeburg, New York. She says, "Under mental health, we talk about suicide, depression and this is actually a great fit for the health curriculum." The website, called STEPS, is interactive and is used anonymously. Parents have also used it.

"There's a bunch of different things you can click on," remarks parent Cathy Hiep, "whether it's depression, how to talk to them about their boyfriends or girlfriends, alcohol, the drugs, how to discuss a lot of things with them."

"There can never be too much outreach," says Jane Toskovich. "How could there be?"

NYU hopes that STEPS will become a nationwide resource.

For more information on suicide prevention, go to the home page of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at http://www.afsp.org/

For information on the new online program, go to http://www.promotestrength.org/programinfo.html

On that page, below are sections with information for the public.

AM I IN A FUNK OR DO I JUST NEED HELP?
DOWN WITH TEST ANXIETY
TEEN DEPRESSION
A GUIDE FOR PERPLEXED PARENTS

Web produced by Lila Corn


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