Wednesday 30 November 2022
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Is Rochester Doing Enough To Prevent Teen Suicide?

Pensive child looking through a windowNew teenage suicide prevention groups are coming to the upstate, but too late for some Rochester teens. And for the parents coping with a child’s death by suicide, there are no easy answers.

In February, a 14-year-old Fairport girl committed suicide. She was a freshman in high school. In July 2015, the parents of 12-year-old Kennis Cady found her unconscious in their East Rochester home. Cady had tied her pajama bottoms to her bed frame and hung herself. She died a week later.

Teen suicide is always shocking, but many Rochester residents simply couldn’t understand how a 12-year-old could take her own life.

For parents of teens who kill themselves, there are no easy answers. Often, there are no answers at all.

But one Rochester mental health expert is helping bring new suicide and drug addiction prevention programs to more than 60 high schools and middle schools in Rochester and New York state. University of Rochester Medical Center professor of Psychiatry Peter Wyman, Ph.D., and Senator Rob Ortt, 62nd District (R, C, I-North Tonawanda), secured a $1.5 million grant this June to create new intervention programs for teens, which are backed by a decade of research.

According to an interview on the University of Rochester Medical Center website, the new programs are based in a simple premise: teens “listen more to their friends than to their parents, teachers, or other adult role models.”

“We’re proud to bring these valuable programs to dozens of schools across the state for the first time,” said Ortt, the chair of the Senate Committee on Mental Health. “The evidence we have seen makes it clear that they help young people build critical strengths and protective abilities, so that we can markedly reduce the number of our youth who are taking their own lives, or becoming dangerously addicted to drugs and alcohol.”

Today, as many as one in three New York students is involved in bullying, while 20% of teens will experience depression. Depression greatly increases a teen’s risk of suicide, and on any given day, about 1,439 teens will try to take their own lives. The new intervention programs are designed to give young people the tools they need to support each other.

Fortunately, some Rochester teens are already doing exactly that.

A Tragedy in Fairport

After the Fairport ninth grader took her life, her friend Maeve Reed decided to do something about the mental health stigma that keeps so many people from seeking help.

“If she loved you, you knew it. She wasn’t afraid to say, ‘I love you,'” Reed told 13WHAM. “It’s the thing that I can do to not make it OK, but to feel like it’s not all bad, like something good came out of it.”

In May, Reed organized the “Stop the Stigma Awareness Concert” at the Perinton Community Center Amphitheater, which featured bands like Ivy’s Panic Room, Ronnie Watts, and The Escape Artists. Even after the event ended, members of the community were still posting on the event’s Facebook page.

“I’m so proud of such [a] young lady to take a stand. I lost my son suicide also…. This is an awesome cause,” wrote one poster, while another community member shared, “May participants be strong, and audience moved, so we can not just stop the stigma about mental health and suicide, but also be better listeners ourselves.”

While it’s encouraging to see teens helping to support their peers, parents and teachers are also looking for ways to better address mental health. In March, 150 parents and teachers attended a special meeting on teen suicide at the Penfield Central School District.

“It’s not a question of whether it’s going to happen in your district, it’s when it’s going to happen. It’s a fact of life,” said Penfield Superintendent Thomas Putnam. “We’ve got kids from our teeniest kindergartners to the ones ready to go off to college or career, and they all need our support.”

What Causes Teen Suicide?

Mental illness, bullying, substance abuse… all of these issues can increase the chances that a teen will harm themselves. But only recently have efforts to decrease the stigma associated with mental health ( gone mainstream.

Anxiety word cloud with abstract background

In recent years, activists have made a major push to raise awareness and increase support for stigmatized issues, particularly mental health, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Nationwide, experts say that a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds, while 4.8 million women will experience violence by an intimate partner in 2016.

For teenagers, intervention programs like Wyman’s strengthen the safety net for troubled teens. Even so, the warning signs can be hard to spot in time.

When 12-year-old Kennis Cady killed herself, her parents were actively seeking a therapist to help her. The girl’s parents say their daughter was the victim of cyberbullying by mean girls at her school. According to a lengthy profile in Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle, two popular classmates with a combined 8,000 Instagram followers bullied Cady and allegedly created a hurtful social media account to harass Cady.

“When something like this happens, it hits you in the worst possible way,” father Dan Cady told the newspaper. “You owe it to your child to protect them, even from themselves. I would compel every parent to listen to these words: There could be no warning signs. It could be your child that’s next.”

If you or someone you know is suffering through a mental health crisis or dealing with thoughts of self-harm, do not hesitate to contact Lifeline at 585-275-5151 or by dialing 211.