"Youth Suicides Spark Student Mental Health Initiative" news article
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For some York County students, topics that are often kept quiet -- mental health and suicide -- were out in the open this week.
"For some reason, talking about suicide ... it's avoided. Nobody ever thinks to talk about this," said Neha Noor, an eighth-grader at Central York Middle School.
But everyone knows someone who has dealt with something, like depression or being sad, she said.
"It's always a good idea to spread awareness about something so important," she said.
The York County Suicide Prevention Coalition held its ninth annual conference Thursday at the Wyndham Garden in West Manchester Township. This year's event included something new: a simultaneous workshop for local students, focused on suicide and mental health awareness issues. Middle and high school students from nearly every school district in the county attended.
Organizers, who are social workers in local districts, said there have simply been too many youth suicides in recent memory, and mental health issues are not often discussed.
"If you want to make change, you have to start at the school," said Kara Vojcsik, social services coordinator in the South Eastern School District. "These kids have a pulse on what's going on in the community."
York County Coroner Pam Gay told the adults and students that of 40 suicides so far in 2016, seven were among high school students. That's on track to be "our worst year ever" for that age, she said.
"That tells us the work is not done," she said, saying it's important to reach out to youth to address issues like depression early.
The student workshop was the start of a new group, which the adults involved loosely titled the York County Youth Mental Health Awareness Coalition, but challenged the students with coming up with a better name.
Students settled on calling the group "The Silence Ends Here." They gave themselves a hashtag: #Iambecauseyouare.
York County students are part of a new effort to address youth mental health issues in the county. (Photo: Angie Mason, York Daily Record)
The same group will gather several times throughout the school year, planning for some kind of event in May, which is mental health awareness month.
The teens heard from Alexa Moody, president of Please Live, a central Pennsylvania-based suicide prevention group, who shared her own experience with depression and offered information on mental health issues and signs students could watch for in classmates.
Then students gathered in small groups and brainstormed what York County needs in order to address mental health issues for youths. They jotted ideas on lists, such as more youth-run awareness programs, education on mental health, local hotlines, and more exposure.
Several said they were happy to get the chance to talk about mental health and suicide, something they don't think is talked about enough.
"Teachers think they know," said Hannah Lieberknecht, a Dover Area High School senior. "We really know what's going on."
Spring Grove Area High School senior Miranda Walko said mental health should be treated as a bigger issue. She thinks the area lacks in groups for teenagers -- those who aren't necessarily in need of drug or alcohol treatment, but just someone to talk to.
"I'm really excited," she said. She'd lobbied for the group name to be York Youth Speaks. "I like that one because we are finally getting a voice."
Here's a look at the number of individuals younger than 25 who have died by suicide in recent years.
2016 so far: 8
2006 to 2016: 78
Learn the warning signs
The York County Suicide Prevention Coalition's ninth annual conference included sessions on suicide prevention and intervention and on survivors, among other topics.
Cindy Richard, director of the coalition, said that suicide knows no boundaries and can happen at all ages, in all sectors of the community.
Her overall goal for the conference was for attendees to learn the warning signs of suicide, she said.
Visit www.take5tosavelives.org to learn about the warning signs of suicide and steps to take if you know someone exhibiting one of those signs.
For help, contact Crisis Intervention at 1-800-673-2496 or 717-851-5320, the York County Suicide Prevention Coalition at 717-227-0048, or the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The SHOP at New Grounds Roasting Company will host a Suicide Awareness Benefit Concert at 2 p.m. Sept. 24.
Cost is $5, and proceeds will benefit Olivia's House, a Grief and Loss Center for Children. The event includes a silent auction, art exhibit, vendors and more. Featured artists include Stino, Lost Cause, Peter Bottros, Cody Kilburn, Elijah Cross, Maria Lytle and Violets Lost. The day includes a variety of genres from hip hop and folk music to poetry and comedy.
New Grounds is at 284 W. Market St., York. Search for The SHOP at New Grounds on Facebook for more information.