By GAIL LOWE
WAKEFIELD — According to statistics last released by the American Association of Suicidology in 2011, there were 585 deaths from suicide in Massachusetts, a number of them children that year.
Though the figure pales in comparison to Florida, where there were 2,880 deaths reported in the 2011 report, the number still remains a deep concern of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Stephen K. Zrike — so much so that he informed the school board last night that he has formed a Suicide Prevention Coalition.
The Coalition will be headed by Kelley Cunningham, a Wakefield parent and director of Community Education and Outreach for the Samaritans.
The team will be comprised of school staff, parents, faith-based leaders, town officials and emergency personnel.
Anti-bullying programs have helped prevent some deaths but more has to be done to dissuade young people from taking their lives.
Zrike cited stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and issues at home as the leading causes.
“There’s a lot of pressure on our students,” said Zrike, adding that the problem has become a national epidemic that affects everyone. He pointed to the city of Newton where there has been a rash of suicides and mentioned the city has taken steps toward prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has its own set of statistics. According to CDC’s website, for youth between 10 and 24 years of age suicide is the third leading cause of death. The act results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year.
But deaths from suicide are only part of the problem. More young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. Each year, up to 157,000 young people between 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries in hospitals’ Emergency Rooms across the country.
Coalition members will look to enhance community awareness about suicide and make important recommendations on mental health is addressed both inside and outside of our schools Zrike said.
Over the summer, the results of the spring 2014 Youth Risk Behavior Survey were presented to school board members, high school Assistant Principal TJ Liberti, middle school Assistant Principal Andrew Tetrault and the town’s substance abuse prevention coordinator Catherine Dhingra.
The group shared the trends based on results of the survey.
One of the most troubling trends, based on findings, is that 18 percent of middle school students have seriously considered suicide and 10 percent made a plan to do so.
“At the high school, these numbers were 16 and 14 percent, respectively,” said Zrike in a report given to school board members last night. “In both cases, Wakefield’s percentages are higher than the state average and mirrors national averages.”
Surprisingly, in the two months following the presentation, Dr. Zrike said he has not received any calls or e-mails regarding these disturbing results.
“I can only speculate that people are hesitant to discuss what is typically taboo in our society — depression, mental health and suicide.”
Coinciding with National Suicide Prevention Week, observed this year between Sept. 8 through Sept. 15, Zrike has urged the community to accept the information in the survey as a cause for alarm and begin a meaningful dialogue about how the issues are addressed.
“Sadly, across our country, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds and is the tenth leading cause of death for people of all ages, according to the American Association of Suicidology,” said Zrike. “It’s important that we respond proactively and aggressively to preserve the social and emotional well being of our community.”
The purpose of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey is to help measure the prevalence of behaviors that put youth in the state at risk for significant health and social problems that can occur during adolescence and adulthood.
“Students in middle school and high school were asked a series of questions about substance use, protective factors, suicidal behaviors, personal safety, sexual health, exercise and weight loss. The data has and will continue to assist in the planning, prevention, intervention and evaluation of these risky behaviors,” said Zrike.
Who’s at risk?
• Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide.
• Native Americans and Alaskan Native youth have the highest rates of suciide-related fatalities.
• Hispanic youth were more likely to report suicide attempts than their black and Caucasian peers.
• History of previous suicide attempts
• Family history of suicide
• History of depression or other mental health issue
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• Stressful life event or loss
• Easy access to lethal methods
• Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others