WESTFIELD, NJ – Most teens are painfully aware of today’s suicide epidemic. 

Every day, high schoolers in the United States attempt suicide an average of over 3,041 times, federal figures show.

Suicide kills more teenagers and young adults than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease, combined, the CDC statistics show. Here in New Jersey, the picture for teens is equally grim: Since 2003, suicides rates have increased among 10- to 18-year-olds – the only category to grow during this period.

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So when Westfield High School students heard about a training to recognize and intervene with people in crisis, eight students stepped up.

“I was told about the opportunity by my health teacher Mrs. Kolesar,” said Jack Mossawir, a junior at the school. “Suicide has affected me and the people around me so I wanted to prepare for the future.”

Jack joined his classmates at a two-day, 16-hour suicide intervention training that ran over the weekend of June 8. Caring Contact, a local crisis hotline, taught a program known as ASIST – Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, the most broadly implemented suicide prevention training program in the world.

The program teaches participants how to recognize the signs of someone having thoughts of suicide and assist them to create a plan to support their immediate safety.

The students already have plans to put their skills to use.

“I run the Silver Lining Mental Health Awareness Club at Westfield High School,” said sophomore Ashleigh Bahadur. “I thought that the ASIST training would be great to pass on to other teenagers so we can be more prepared to prevent suicide in our community.”

Her classmate, Julie Ashare, added, “If anyone in my life reaches out, I will use my ASIST skills to talk to them. I plan to check on others when it seems like they’re having a tough time.”

A grant from the Westfield Area Youth Volunteer Experience (WAYVE) and a generous donation from The Westfield Foundation made the training possible.

“We were thrilled to receive funding for six high school students to attend our ASIST training from WAYVE, and even more pleased when it took only one day for nine students to express interest,” stated Caring Contact Executive Director Janet Sarkos. “This shows us that students want to be empowered to help themselves and their friends who are in emotional distress.”

Caring Contact is an award-winning, volunteer-staffed crisis hotline and listening community, providing active listening support and best-in-class training to the Central and Northern New Jersey community. More than 100 trained volunteer listeners answered close to 11,000 calls last year from people in crisis, having suicidal thoughts or simply feeling depressed and lonely. Anyone interested in registering for Caring Contact’s Hotline Listener Training should click here to fill out a volunteer listener application or call 908-301-1899. Fall training classes begin Sept. 16.