WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield resident Carolyn Buoscio took to the podium at Tuesday’s Westfield Board of Education meeting during the public comments to talk about mental health and wellness and what she said was the need to better arm Westfield's educators, district staff and parents about the warning signs of mental illness and suicide.
Buoscio completed a suicide intervention and mental health first aid course with Caring Contact, a Westfield-based volunteer-staffed caring and crisis hotline and listening community that, according its website, provides active listening support and best-in-class education to the Central and Northern New Jersey community.
Before beginning her comments, Buoscio provided hand-outs that included details on her training and her efforts to connect with district educators to understand how they may be better trained to detect mental illness in their students. The document went on to recommend “a district-wide, comprehensive approach to mental health awareness and education, including suicide prevention/intervention training, ensuring consistency across the district and continuity between schools, as well as home.”
Buoscio became interested in learning more about the district’s efforts in mental health awareness and support after her recent certification from Caring Contact.
“In the course of working with this company, I saw that we were only working with a handful of schools in the areas and I wondered what they all had in common because they were kind of in different areas … and what they all had in common was that they were responding to a youth suicide in their town,” said Buoscio. “I noticed we weren’t working with any town that hadn’t experienced that yet, at least not recently.”
In an effort to mitigate death by suicide, Buoscio hopes that the district will take a more proactive approach to mental health.
“I would love to see Westfield lead on this,” she said.
“This is a very clearly well thought through and comprehensive proposal,” Board President Gretchan Ohlig said. “I don’t feel like I am in a position to respond … We might have to get back to you.”
Superintendent Margaret Dolan took a moment to share details on what the district is currently doing to train educators and staff in suicide prevention.
“This is something we really do obviously take very seriously — the mental health of our students,” Dolan said. “We do, and have for years, provide training to all of our staff on understanding suicide, suicide prevention, signs of suicide. That’s an ongoing thing. There are so many things in our district you don’t teach once.”
Buoscio went on to say that PTSO funds and private contributions would likely cover the costs of hiring a third party to facilitate training.