Sign up for email alerts from The Monitor | Diocese of Trenton
The Monitor | Diocese of Trenton, NJ  
Advanced Search

home : news : parishes, schools & local January 16, 2018

Teen suicide prevention seminar in Hamilton Square offers key tools for parents, teachers
More than 600 concerned families and educators listen to George Scott from the Center for Counseling Services, Mercer County, speak about teenage suicide and prevention during a recent seminar in St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square. Rose O’Connor photo

More than 600 concerned families and educators listen to George Scott from the Center for Counseling Services, Mercer County, speak about teenage suicide and prevention during a recent seminar in St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square. Rose O’Connor photo

For More Information

• The presentation by George Scott is available online.

• Information on Camp Fire can be found at

By Rose O'Connor | Correspondent

Responding to the rising number of teenage suicides, including several within the Diocese of Trenton during the past two years, more than 600 parents, educators and concerned adults recently attended a suicide prevention seminar in St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square.

“It’s so important to have this conversation, as many are impacted by suicide,” said education specialist George Scott, a licensed marital and family therapist from the Center for Counseling Services, Mercer County.

In Mercer County alone, he explained, “during the past 20 months, there have been seven confirmed suicide deaths among our adolescents who were either residents of or attended school here in Mercer County.” According to the 2016 New Jersey Youth Suicide Report, suicide remains the third-leading cause of death for New Jersey youth ages 10 to 24. 

Participants who attended the Dec. 12 seminar heard Scott and representatives from Camp Fire New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that provides youth empowerment educational programs, speak. The crowd gathered to increase their understanding of youth suicide, risk factors, treatment and prevention of suicidal behavior in adolescents.

The evening also addressed warning signs of youth suicide, so those who live and work with teens are better prepared to identify and refer at-risk students. Positive actions were discussed as well, including suggestions for engaging children and teens in finding purpose and identity.

Sobering Statistics

In his presentation, Scott called suicide “a public health problem,” outlining where suicide peaks, including ages 10-24, 45-55 and 75-90 years of age. “We know there are different stressors at different times of life.”

Scott’s background includes employment as former director of student services in South Brunswick schools; former county coordinator of the Traumatic Loss Coalition (TLC) in Middlesex and Monmouth counties, and former adjunct instructor in the counselor education department, graduate school of education at The College of New Jersey, Ewing. Currently Scott works with the TLC as a statewide resource coordinator through Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, and supports the work of county coalitions throughout New Jersey.

“We know that the stresses of life sometimes become toxic stresses and affect our physical and emotional selves,” Scott said. “We know that at times, our children pay a price for all of this. We need to create atmospheres where our children feel safe. They need to feel connected, they need to ‘feel good enough,’ and our homes need to be places where they can find sanctuary.”

He spoke very firmly to the fact that “helping survivors deal with the loss and grief in an appropriate way is important for everyone. Taking the right action after a suicide can be prevention for future suicides. Survivors of suicide loss feel isolated, blamed; people who were impacted may not seek the help and counseling that would be beneficial. The stigma of suicide reinforces the silence around suicide.”

Scott also outlined behaviors that serve as “red flags” including:  irritability, anger, hostility, self-injury, extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, frequent complaints of physical illness, frequents absences/tardiness, a decrease in school or work performance, temper outbursts and blaming, bullying or intimidating, aggression and physical cruelty, isolation and/or use of drugs and alcohol to ease the pain.

“Why do so many children wind up here?’ Scott asked. Some reasons, he said, might include traumatic events such as neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, addictions in the family, harsh and demeaning language toward others, exposure to suicide attempts and deaths, lack of appropriate supervision, being a bully and being bullied.

“So what’s the secret? How do our children get to be the best they can be? What is it that we can do, to support them as they make their way?” he asked, as he looked to famous psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which speaks to the idea that children need to feel safe and that they belong. “Children need to feel emotionally safe in an atmosphere with adults who don’t demean or hurt them,” he said.

“Unrecognized and untreated mental health problems are present in more than 90 percent of suicide cases. Only one out of every three adolescents with depression gets help,” he offered. “People who kill themselves exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. We as community members and leaders can be part of a safety net: [we need to] listen to others’ words, notice behaviors, especially changes in behavior, be sensitive to moods, especially changes from the baseline.”

Scott offered suggestions for how parents can address behaviors that may lead to suicide. “Engage your children in regular conversations – not interrogations – about school, friends, and how things are going in their lives,” he said. “Share your worries and concerns; let your children know you’re thinking about their well-being, remind your children they are important and you love them. Tell them again!”

He encouraged parents to build a support team to help address the needs of a child and teen considered at risk, while also urging parents to practice the art of self-care, understanding that it is never too late to make a difference in the life of a child.

An intermission midway through the seminar allowed those in attendance to talk privately with the presenter and to network and discuss the crisis with one another.

“I don’t want to take a chance that I am missing something in my child,” said Erin Wrights, whose child attends St. Gregory the Great Academy. She came to the presentation with fellow parent Joi Palmiei.

“[Scott] was fabulous,” Palmiei said. “He was very informative. I loved how he repeated himself so that this information is something we keep in mind.”

Strive to Thrive

Camp Fire New Jersey presenters led the second half of the seminar, which focused on positive reinforcement and development of the strengths of both children and teens. Leading the discussion were Camp Fire program director Stacy Estelle, who supervises development of evidence-based curriculum; teen coordinator Nikki Caprioni, who has a background in social work and facilitates teen leadership development and service learning, and instructor Kristen Palagano, who has a master’s degree in counseling and has helped pioneer the Opiates Prevention Program.

Presenters focused on how parents can help to manage their child’s stress, what stressors are, and healthy coping skills to work through those stressors, such as exercise, communication, positive affirmation and healthy distractions.

The team introduced “Thrive{ology}” – Camp Fire’s program framework, a research-based, measurable approach to youth development that includes finding a child’s “spark.” 

“Sparks are these things that give them purpose; their passions, skills and strengths. It’s what energizes them. As parents, we need to be spark champions,” Caprioni said.

She also shared that children with “sparks” are less likely to experience or carry out violence, are more likely to have higher grades, volunteer and have positive identity formation. 

“Every child needs one person in life that’s crazy about them,” she remarked.

In addition to sparks, youth need a growth mindset: the belief that one can learn new skills all the time, to establish and build goal management skills and allowing the opportunity to reflect on activities and outcomes.

Necessary Action

Those in attendance agreed that the entire presentation was beneficial, as youth suicide is not easy to discuss.

“This topic needs to be talked about, and we need to have the courage to have the tough conversations,” said Maureen Tuohy, principal of Our Lady of Sorrows School, Mercerville. “Dialogue and understanding are the only ways we are going to be able to work with our kids and get them to open up about what they are thinking and feeling.”

Tuohy noted that many families of OLS attended, many of them middle school parents. “Anyone I spoke with felt the information was well presented, accurate, timely and needed to be heard, regardless of how tough the topic is to think about,” she said.

Dr. Jason Briggs, principal in St. Gregory the Great Academy, believes the issue of suicide is timely and needs more attention.

“I feel very strongly about this topic.  I know that there are no guarantees when working to prevent suicide, but I believe firmly that we have to at least try,” Briggs said. “To me, suicide is a slow-moving, but nonetheless, critical emergency, akin to how a lava flow from a volcano may move slowly, but that there is no doubt that it will eventually burn you if you do not take steps to be safe.”

“As Catholics, we are called to protect all life from conception until the moment God decides to call us from this life,” he continued. “To me, working toward suicide prevention is an important component of our pro-life mission.”

For parents, having this informational forum to discuss such an important and sensitive topic was critical and was an opportunity they didn’t want to miss.

Mary Beth and Kevin Beetle have two children who attend Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, where suicide has touched the school community profoundly in recent months.

“We were affected by suicide rather quickly, and it can be difficult to discuss with your children,” Mary Beth Beetle said. “Any information that can help me navigate and have a healthy dialogue with my children is something that I want to hear,” she added.

Her husband concurred. “Any time positive information is discussed and different perspectives are offered is helpful, and that’s what we need as parents.”

Related Coverage:

Suicide requires deeper discussions than for-profit arenas can give, Catholic educator says

Concern for youth triggers pushback against popular Netflix series depicting suicide

Teens tackle tough subject of suicide during youth ministry meeting in Freehold

Subscription Login

From the Bishop
Pope Francis

The Monitor, 701 Lawrenceville Road, P.O. Box 5147, Trenton, NJ 08638-0147 | PHONE: 609-406-7404 | FAX: 609-406-7423 |

Copyright © 2011 | | All Rights Reserved.
Any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification or distribution without the prior written consent of the Diocese of Trenton is strictly prohibited.

Software © 1998-2018 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved