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Local Listeners are There for Young People in Crises

Christopher Reardon

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 • 9:16pm

The recent apparent suicide of Milburn teenager Charles Zhang once again demonstrates the vital role that suicide prevention hotlines play in society. Nearly 80 percent of teenagers who die by suicide try to ask for help beforehand, according to authorities.

At local suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline CONTACT We Care of Westfield, 200 trained volunteers each month answer more than 1,400 calls and texts from people in crisis and/or contemplating suicide. Many of those come from young people, according to Joanne Oppelt, the hotline’s executive director.

Teenagers in crisis can call 908-232-2880 or text “CWC” to 839863, Monday through Friday 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

The statistics of teenage suicide Oppelt provides are frightening.

  • Approximately 4,600 teenagers die by suicide each year and the suicide rate among young people has been increasing since 1975.
  • Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among children 10-14, the third leading cause of death of youth aged 15-24 and the second leading cause of death among college students.
  • In 2011, a national representative sample of youth in grades nine through 12 found that:
  • 15.8 percent of students reported they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year
  • 12.8 percent reported they had made plans to die by suicide
  • 7.8 percent reported they had made a suicide attempt one or more times

“This is a national tragedy that is costing our society far too many of our most precious resource, our children,” Oppelt said. “That is why CONTACT We Care makes such an effort to reach young people and let them know we are here for them, as well as to reach educators and others who work with young people to provide them with resources to spot the early warning signs of suicide and intervene.”

In spring 2012 CONTACT launched its ongoing Save Our Youth Campaign designed to raise awareness about teen suicide and increase resources to help teenagers in crisis. The multi-pronged effort entails placing posters and literature in schools promoting the hotline’s phone number and texting option.  The hotline now has a presence in 45 schools and four nonprofits serving youth and continually expands the program.

CONTACT We Care also offers in-school suicide prevention training for educators. The training enables educators to identify the risk factors of suicide, develop skills to support youth, including active listening skills and asking directly about suicide, and apply suicide intervention skills with students at risk of suicide. The program is  fully compliant with NJSA 18A:6-111 requiring all public school teaching staff members to complete two hours of instruction in suicide prevention.

Educators interested in learning more should contact Sue Fasano, CONTACT’s director of programming, as 908.301.1899 or sue.fasano@contactwecare.org.

“It is so essential we let these young people know they have someone they can talk to, anonymously and with nonjudgmental support,” Oppelt said. “We’re here for them.

CONTACT We Care serves Central and Northern New Jersey and is a primary responder to calls to the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) that originate in New Jersey. Callers also reach CONTACT by dialing 908-232-2880 or texting “CWC” to 839863.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer listener or texter at CONTACT We Care should contact Sue Fasano, director of programs at the hotline, at 908.301.1899 or sue.fasano@contactwecare.org.

About CONTACT We Care

CONTACT We Care, headquartered in Westfield and with a listening hub in Morristown, is Central and Northern New Jersey’s crisis listening line, receiving more than 17,000 calls per year.  CONTACT brings comfort and hope to people in emotional distress through active, empathetic and nonjudgmental listening.  All calls are free, anonymous and confidential.  If you are in crisis and need someone to listen, call our hotline at 908-232-2880.  We are affiliated with CONTACT USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the American Association of Suicidology.  For general information about CONTACT We Care or to become a volunteer, call us at 908-301-1899 or visit our website at www.contactwecare.org.

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