“That very afternoon, Jan. 9, the day of his son’s funeral, the man came to me and said something needed to be done to get in front of this issue,” said Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, on Wednesday.
“You could see the pain in his eyes. So, we talked through some concepts. We had to find a way to make kids aware there’s a better way, that there are better avenues to handle their problems than suicide.”
Singleton and Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, have been instrumental in addressing the issue of youth suicide in New Jersey. Under the proposal, which Singleton co-sponsored in the Assembly last year and Allen did in the Senate recently, public school staff members would undergo additional suicide prevention training.
The initial proposal, at which the New Jersey Education Association balked last fall, mandated two hours of additional training each year. Currently, teaching staffs have two hours of training every five years.
Amendments to the proposal, which will be introduced Monday and which have been embraced by the NJEA, call not for additional training hours, but for stressing a higher focus on suicide prevention within the overall professional development mandated each year.
According to statistics from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, the suicide rate for ages 10-24 is about five per 100,000. The statistic doesn’t include failed suicide attempts.
Suicides have hit Burlington County particularly hard recently, with the 18-year-old’s death and that of another Burlington Township High student, a 15-year-old freshman and a close friend, a few days earlier. Singleton also has spoken with that boy’s father regarding the need to stress suicide prevention in schools.
“I put together a meeting with the Burlington Township School District, and we have a district wide plan,” Singleton said. “This is an issue too important not to address to this degree.”
Singleton’s passionate interest in youth suicide prevention was sparked early last year. He met with Scot Fritz, of Ocean County, who, along with Don Quigley, established the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide in 2005 after they lost teenage children.
“I feel we can get this bill to the governor’s desk by the end of March,” Singleton said. “With Sen. Allen advancing it in the Senate, it can make its way out of Senate committee by March, and we can get it out of the Assembly by then.”
He recalled a community meeting on teen suicide in Willingboro he helped organize after the two suicides.
“Kids and parents were there,” Singleton said. “A question was raised: How many kids in the room have contemplated suicide? So many hands went up, and the adults were shocked and you heard gasps. It was shocking to learn so many youths feel this way.
“We have to show them there’s a better way.”