WEST ORANGE, NJ — Former New Jersey Governor Richard Codey attended an assembly at Roosevelt Middle School on Friday to speak about the mental health issues that affect teenagers throughout the state, where he noted that 1,200 teenagers between the ages of nine and 12 attempt suicide each year, with roughly 90 of those attempts being successful.
Codey, a native of neighboring Orange, said that words like suicide, depression and anxiety “did not exist during [his] generation or for a lot of generations that followed.” He explained that children who were bullied back then “could go home to the safety and love of their family,” but that all of this changed when children began being exposed to social media.
“Nowadays, when you go home, social media follows you into your house,” said Codey, who shared the tragic example of 12-year-old Mallory Grossman of Morris County, who died in 2017 by suicide after being bullied publicly on social media, privately by text message and excluded from school activities. “Think of the life she could have had, had she gotten over that period of life. [Suicide] is a permanent solution to what is a temporary problem.”
Codey asked the West Orange students to think about impact that suicide can have.
“There’s no more friends; there’s no more Christmases; there’s no more dancing; there’s no more partying; there’s nothing,” he said. “It’s over. That’s it.”
Codey then showed the Roosevelt students a Buzzfeed video of Kevin Hines, a man who is one of 36 people who survived a 25-story jump off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Cal. Hines, who suffers from bipolar disorder among other mental health issues, says in the video that although he thought he wanted to end his life, he felt instant regret the moment his hands left the bridge.
“I remember thinking, ‘no one’s going to know that I didn’t want to die,’” said Hines.
At the conclusion of the video, Codey said that although “an impulse can obviously kill you,” Hines and the other survivors are currently living productive lives. Codey also stated that Hines is the only survivor to date who has used his own experience to teach others about suicide prevention and awareness.
Codey also said that there are thousands of people in New Jersey who are “living happy and productive lives” because they were able to get help for their mental illness. This includes his wife, former Gregory Elementary School teacher Mary Jo Codey, who suffered from mental illness and eventually asked for help from her husband.
Following the birth of their oldest son, Codey explained that his wife suffered from post-partum depression, which included thoughts of killing her newborn, and received treatment over the course of 18 years.
“She knew and understood what she had,” said Codey. “She was embarrassed by it back then, but she came to me to say, ‘I’m mentally ill; I’m sick.”’
He elaborated that while being treated, his wife received 18 shock therapy treatments, was in a medically induced coma for “roughly three weeks and survived” and also underwent a double mastectomy during her battle with breast cancer.
“So, I say this: it is okay to say you’re not okay, but it is not okay not to ask for help,” said Codey, adding that his wife had the courage to ask for help and is now thriving. “I don’t know where my life would be—or my children’s lives—if she hadn’t spoken up.”
The former governor then engaged in a discussion with the students, gauging their thoughts on how they would handle a situation in which a friend was feeling depressed or suicidal, or whether students had a trusted adult—"who may not be a teacher, but an employee”—that they feel comfortable talking to.
He also spoke about the teen-oriented Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which he said has been linked to an increase in web searches, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, that also indicate an increase in not only suicide awareness, but also suicidal ideation.
Codey cautioned students about the possibility of encountering anxiety-inducing situations in their futures, such as attending an Ivy League university. He urged them to always be on the lookout for people they can talk to, “whether it’s the teacher, the janitor [or] a coach,” and to avoid trying to solve the issues they encounter on their own.
He concluded the assembly by posing a question that he asked earlier: “If you have a friend who is talking to you about suicide, what would you say to them?”
One student replied that he would ask his friend to think about what he or she has now and to try and imagine what he or she could be in the future.
According to The Codey Fund for Mental Health, a non-profit organization founded in 2012 by the governor and his wife, there are warning signs that everyone should be familiar with in an individual who might be contemplating suicide. These could include:
- Thinking about or actively seeking a way to die
- Increasing the use of drugs or other substances
- Feeling anxious or hopeless
- Withdrawing from people or activities and feeling isolated
- Displaying unusual mood changes
Suicide, according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the second-leading cause of death among children who are between the ages of 10 and 14.
If someone is at risk or displaying signs associated with suicidal ideation, seek help from a doctor, the nearest hospital, or call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).