September is Suicide Awareness Prevention Month!
As the founder of the #LifeMatters Campaign, Coach Debbie strives to bring suicide awareness and prevention to diverse communities. Her goal is that every person realizes the value of their life and their worth in each day.
Below is her abstract submitted to Nova Southeastern University CAHSS SGA Interdepartmental Symposium:
On average, there are 121 suicides per day. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death out of the top 10 leading causes of death by age group 10-34 in the United States. Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.
As a Mental Health Advocate and Doctoral Student in the Nova Southeastern University Doctor of Marriage and Family Department, I know the research very well, but I also want to share that as a daughter and friend, I know them personally. A close family member who experienced adverse childhood experience struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, just last year, my friend found a loved one who committed death by suicide.
These are stories of everyday lives that I’ve encountered. Yet, many suicide attempts, go unreported or untreated. Surveys suggest that at least one million people in the U.S. each year engage in intentionally inflicted self-harm. And firearms account for almost 50% of all suicides. Violence in schools is another factor that may lead to suicide, especially among youth and college students.
Violence in schools is a serious issue at all levels of education as violence can occur in school at the primary, secondary, and post secondary levels. While school shootings are largely publicized and traumatic, the risk of such an event is much lower than is believed by the general population. However, it is important to note that, overall, school violence generally consists of "physical attacks, fights (without a weapon), theft, larceny, or vandalism" (Juvonen, 2001). In other words, the impact of school shootings is generally greater than less severe violence on school campuses, but the risk of lesser violent crimes is greater. There are numerous steps schools take to ensure the safety of their students, including utilizing metal detectors to limit access to weapons on campus, employing security guards, enforcing "rules and regulations regarding student conduct and dress," identifying students at risk early, incorporating "anti-bullying instructional programs, and counseling and mediation" (Juvonen, 2001).
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes several risk factors that contribute to school violence. These risk factors include "prior history of violence; drug, alcohol, or tobacco use; association with delinquent peers; poor family functioning; poor grades in school; and poverty in the community" (CDC, 2016). The CDC states that school violence can be prevented though a number of avenues, including "universal, school-based prevention programs" that increase awareness of the issue and teach students in all grades skills to better manage their emotions (CDC, 2016).
Additionally, they state that programs that target parents and families can reduce the risk of violence by educating parents about effective communication and child development. Lastly, they point to outreach programs that target and mediate youth violence. Thus, the CDC affirms that everyone has an important role in stopping youth violence before it starts.
Yet, reports on school violence in South Florida continue to make headlines. From headlines such as "17- year-old arrested after bringing a loaded gun to his former high school" (Miami Herald, October 26, 2016) to "Social media threat that leads to heightened security at a high school in Boca Raton" (Sun-Sentinel, February 22, 2017). Today, school and youth violence continue to cause alarm. The term "youth violence" is used to describe "when youth between the ages of 10 and 24 years intentionally use physical force or power to threaten or harm other people" (CDC, 2016). It refers to "harmful behaviors that can start early and [that can] continue into young adulthood" (CDC, 2015).
It is important to be aware and to be vigilant against school violence because it touches the lives of many of our youth. Children and adolescents can be a victim or a perpetrator of violence. Additionally, youth may not be the victim or the perpetrator, but they can witness violence perpetrated against peers. The negative impact of youth violence extends beyond young victims, as it can cause harm to the physical, mental, and economic health of all community residents.
According to the CDC, some violent acts (e.g ., bullying, slapping, or hitting) can in fact inflict more emotional and psychological damage than observable, physical harm. Others violent acts, such as "robbery and assault (with or without weapons)" can result in serious injury and, if severe enough, can result in death (CDC, March 2016).
Therefore, the ultimate youth violence prevention goal for educational institutions and society in general, should be to stop youth violence from the outset rather than minimizing the harm after incidents of violence. Broward County Schools is leading the way locally by creating and implementing several prevention strategies.
One organization that is committed to school and youth violence prevention is the Choose Peace/Stop Violence initiative, a partnership between United Way of Broward County, Broward County Public Schools, and Children's Services Council of Broward County. Choose Peace/Stop Violence states that the mission of their organization is "to educate, engage, inspire, and empower youth to take action and bring about positive change for the purpose of preventing youth crime and violence, and create safe, healthy and thriving environments for children and families." Choose Peace/Stop Violence has joined forces with Rachel's Challenge to bring the universal message of kindness and compassion to address bullying, student isolation, teen suicide, discrimination and school violence.
Rachel's Challenge, a bullying and violence abatement program, is based on the life and writing of Rachel Joy Scott who was the first victim of the Columbine school shootings in 1999. Rachel's inspiring story provides a simple yet powerful example to students of how small acts of kindness and acceptance motivates us to consider our relationships with the people we come in contact with daily. The organization provides presentations, student trainings, and professional development.
The Suicide and Violence Prevention Center at NSU is also adding to the change by working closely with other NSU schools/centers to prevent violence both within our student body and amongst our staff and faculty. More information can be found at Visit nova.edu/suicideprevention.
Lastly, you can make a real and lasting difference in the lives of youth as well. The CDC's Preventing Youth Violence: Opportunities for Action and its companion guide, Taking Action to Prevent Youth Violence. provides information and action steps to help all community members like you and me to be part of the solution. The CDC's charge is that community leaders and members; public health professionals, families, adults who work with youth; and young people can take steps today to stop youth violence before it starts. Below is how you can get involved:
Community leaders and members can take steps, such as enhancing the skills of young people and using evidence-based prevention strategies.
Public health professionals can strengthen their community's ability to understand and prevent youth violence through sharing information, using data, and continuing research.
Families and other adults who work with youth can be nonviolent role models, closely monitor youth's activities, and seek out help when needed.
Youth can make safe choices and help others be violence free
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) and gain support from #LifeMatters.
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