Parents and other members of the community attended an impactful presentation on suicide awareness and prevention on Feb. 20 at Roosevelt Intermediate School, hearing from a mother whose 16-year-old son died by suicide 10 years ago and from the training director of Caring Contact, a volunteer-staffed caring and crisis hotline and listening community.

“This is a hard conversation to have so I applaud you for walking in here tonight,” Caring Contact Training Director Arlene Klemow told the audience as she outlined suicide intervention steps, warning signs, ways to be a good listener and other important aspects of suicide prevention.

Klemow explained the ABCs of suicide intervention:  A = Ask calmly and directly.  B = Be There with empathy, a calm tone, and active listening.  C = Collaborate and consider a network of people and organizations who can help.  Klemow is a certified Master Trainer in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and Mental Health First Aid for Adults and Youth for Caring Contact (caringcontact.org).

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“I believe that with education and awareness, the vast number of suicides can be prevented,” said Wendy Sefcik who was appointed by the governor’s office to the New Jersey Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council and currently serves as Chair.  “If I had been in the audience [of a presentation like this one], my son might be alive today.”

With her husband and one of her sons, Sefcik founded “Remembering T.J.: A Story of Teen Depression, Lessons, and Hope” (rememberingtj.org), sharing with students, parents, and educators a view of what teen depression can look like and the red flags that often can be dismissed as typical teenage behavior.

“The program involves storytelling, fact sharing, slides and videos that weave the Sefciks’ experience into a program that leaves attendees better equipped to identify and deal with mental health situations for themselves and others,” says a program description on rememberingtj.org.  “The goal is to leave attendees feeling informed, empowered, and HOPEFUL.”

Sefcik also serves as a New Jersey Chapter Board Member for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and with other organizations as well. 

“Our youth need to feel heard,” Sefcik told the audience on Feb. 20.  “Tonight will teach you how to be a good listener.”

Roosevelt principal Brian Gechtman thanked the presenters for the “powerful presentation” and the school counselors who organized the important forum.  “As educators, we are always listening in the hallways, in the classrooms, in the lunch room,” said Gechtman.  “We want our students to share [how they are feeling] with us.”