2016-12-21 / Home

JFCS and Cherry Hill police launch powerful suicide prevention program

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff


This Life Counts (TLC)—Suicide Prevention and Awareness Program, a collaboration of JFCS and the Cherry Hill Police Department on Dec. 7, brought out close to 200 people to hear about the difficult issue of teen and tween suicide, and steps that can be taken to prevent it. Among the speakers at the event were Chief William Monaghan of the Cherry Hill Police Department and JFCS Executive Director Marla Meyers. This Life Counts (TLC)—Suicide Prevention and Awareness Program, a collaboration of JFCS and the Cherry Hill Police Department on Dec. 7, brought out close to 200 people to hear about the difficult issue of teen and tween suicide, and steps that can be taken to prevent it. Among the speakers at the event were Chief William Monaghan of the Cherry Hill Police Department and JFCS Executive Director Marla Meyers. The day Drew Bergman’s father slipped up—nearly causing a serious drunk-driving accident with his sister in the car—was the day that his family’s seemingly picture-perfect world came crashing down.

A seventh-grader at the time, Bergman felt powerless to help his father gain control of his now out-of-the-closet alcoholism or to prevent the unraveling of his parents’ 20-year marriage. He turned to cutting himself. The self-inflicted pain, he explained to a rapt audience at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill on Dec. 7, was something he felt he could actually control.

But when even cutting no longer dulled the devastating hurt, Bergmann made the first of two serous attempts to end his life.

“I was 12 years old. 12. There was no way cognitively I could understand the magnitude of that action,” said Bergman, now a 23-year-old Temple University senior who emerged from his darkest experiences to become a mental-health advocate.

He was among several speakers who addressed the alarming rise in suicide among teens and tweens during the launch of “This Life Counts,” (TLC) a new suicide prevention program sponsored jointly by Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Service and the Cherry Hill Police Department.

Judging from the response—nearly 200 people, including large numbers of teens and their parents, mental health advocates, and law enforcement officers, filled the room—the community is eager to address this health crisis, said Cherry Hill Police Chief William Monaghan. Noting that TLC has been designed to be replicated in other towns across South Jersey, its focus is to bring awareness to the scope of mental-health issues young adults are facing, the resources available to help and, most emphatically, that the taboo against talking about mental illness and pretending such issues don’t exist only exacerbates issues and leads to preventable suicide.

“It’s a topic that people are uncomfortable talking about but we see it a lot,” Monaghan said. “We see the struggles that people are going through daily and we want them to feel comfortable calling us for help.”

Across the nation, suicide was the second leading cause of death among young adults ages 10-24 in 2013, according to the Center for Disease Control. Alarmingly, the rate for 10-14 year olds has doubled since 2000, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

In New Jersey, some 14 percent of high school students considered suicide in 2013, according to the New Jersey Student Health Survey, a biannual questionnaire given to teens in public school.

While girls attempt to end their lives at a higher rate than boys, boys typically tend to be more successful. However, there is a trend of both boys and girls using more lethal means. Some 85 percent of suicide attempts by gun result in death.

In Cherry Hill alone, police responded to 1,377 calls for mental health services from 2013 to 2015, according to Cherry Hill Police Officer Eric Neumann. Among them, 69 calls were serious but uncompleted suicide attempts. Twenty resulted in death by suicide.

“We can tell you, anecdotally, the numbers for juveniles are, at a minimum, twice as large as this, and more likely 3-4 times the numbers you see here,” Neumann said, noting that privacy laws prevent him from parsing out those numbers.

“The reason the police department is out here is a chance to be proactive,” Neumann said. “Everyone knows what to do if someone has chest pain, or if they break a bone, they know where to go and how to access the medical system. For mental health, because it’s whispered about, people don’t know where to go for help. They don’t know how to recognize the signs and they don’t know what to do. We want to help you understand what’s available to you.”

Bergmann, who grew up in Lumberton, noted that his own ignorance of mental health issues in general and the fact that no one in his family talked about the anxiety and depression that ran in his family contributed to his downward spiral.

“I thought I chose to be depressed, that it was my fault and that it was something I did that caused the depression,” said Bergmann, who is involved with Minding Your Mind, a Philadelphia-based advocacy group working to reduce stigma surrounding mental health issues. “This prevented me from getting the treatment and the help that I needed.”

Statistics bear this out. As Dr. Leah Rosenkrantz, D.O., a child and adult psychiatrist, noted, undiagnosed and untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide in young adults. Among signs that someone is suicidal, social media has become “our present day suicide note,” she said.

TLC will be presented again on Wednesday, Apr. 5, 2017 at 7 p.m. at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill.

For more information, call (856) 424-1333. 

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