WEST ORANGE, NJ — Citing “a growing epidemic touching too many families across our state,” New Jersey Senator and former Governor Richard Codey recently joined with two local parents who experienced the tragic loss of their children to suicide, mental health experts and educators at Liberty Middle School in West Orange to announce a new, three-pronged initiative to wage war against teen suicide and depression in New Jersey.

“Too many young lives are being lost,” said Codey. “New Jersey must act now to better equip all school employees to help identify at-risk students and prevent teen suicides and other mental health related incidents in their schools. School workers such as secretaries, security guards and teacher’s aides need the tools and training to recognize bullying, early warning signs and symptoms of mental health issues and the proper steps to resolve conflict and prevent potential disasters.”

Codey emphasized that teen suicide is a real crisis in New Jersey, and that “the loss of any one child is a debilitating experience.”

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“Sadly, across our nation and our state, the statistics tell us more and more families are facing this horrific reality,” he said.

According to the New Jersey Youth Suicide Report, from 2013 to 2015, a total of 2,731 people ages 10 to 24 were treated for non-fatal suicide attempts/self-inflicted injuries—an increase of 37.3 percent from the previous report. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, from 2007 to 2016, the rate of suicides in New Jersey among children ages 10 to 18 rose by 16.6 percent.

Codey and his wife, Mary Jo, both longtime mental health activists and the founders of the Codey Fund for Mental Health, are dedicated to reversing the disturbing trend of teenage suicide and depression. Their new initiative calls for:

  • Legislation to establish a new $1 million competitive grant within the NJ Department of Education (DOE) for school districts to hire mental health counselors. The NJ Department of Health will determine which school districts are awarded grants. The DOE will report on progress by 2021;
  • Specialized training workshops to non-licensed, auxiliary school staff who interact with students; and
  • The creation of a statewide “Teen Suicide and Depression Task Force” charged with developing additional methods to combat teen suicide and depression and report back to the State Legislature by July 2019.

While speaking in West Orange, Codey introduced two parents—Dianne Grossman of Rockaway and Rachelle St. Phard of East Windsor—who shared the stories of how bullying, depression and mental illness were involved in the death of their children, as well as their hope that this new initiative will reduce future tragedies.

Grossman, who lost her 12-year-old daughter, Mallory, to suicide, spoke out about the real dangers of bullying and offered her support of the workshop initiative.

“Auxiliary Staff workshops are a must,” she said. “Our vigilance on educating everyone on signs and symptoms of mental health issues should be one of our primary focus and concern.”

The website www.MallorysArmy.org was created “to raise funds to support, the Mallory’s Army Foundation, and the Grossman family in their fight against bullying,” and asks the community to become “a soldier of Mallory's Army.”

St. Phard talked about how her son Coby’s future was “cut short when he was taken from us due to mental illness and died by suicide.” To honor Coby’s 18 years, his parents established the Fly High Coby fund and website www.flyhighcoby.org.

Marvin Gorsky, senior director of clinical services for the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, spoke about the need to better equip our schools.

“Senator Codey’s workshop initiative will give our schools more trained eyes and ears to identify and prevent bullying that can lead to tragedy, and support the young people susceptible to depression who are targeted,” he said.

The association is dedicated to removing the stigma associated with emotional and mental disorders. Gorsky explained how new workshops will target and empower non-licensed school professionals to help recognize the signs and symptoms of students who may be suffering from mental health issues.