PA County Fights Suicide With Youth Advocates

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YORK, Pa. (AP) — York County is on pace for the most suicides it's ever had.

There were 75 suicides in 2009, the county's worst year to date, said Coroner Pam Gay.

And with 71 already this year, "I can tell you that we will likely surpass that," she said. Last year, the county had 56.

A 17-year-old Red Land High School student who took his own life by jumping off an overpass onto Interstate 83 last month was the third teen this year to complete suicide, Gay said.

"We can't just ignore this and wait until another teen completes suicide," she said.

Reaching out: Three isn't a staggering number for teen suicide, but there were no cases last year, Gay said.

Often, adults who complete suicide and leave notes behind mention that they've struggled with depression and mental illness since their teen years, she said.

A state law amended in June will require all schools to implement a youth suicide awareness and prevention policy and teacher training by the start of next school year.

So, in an attempt to reach young people, Gay wrote a grant with Cindy Richard, founder of the York County Suicide Prevention Coalition, in hopes of getting suicide prevention into local schools.

They received the $10,000 grant from the York County Community Foundation and began implementing programs in the area in July, Richard said.

The Aevidum program is now active in the York County Youth Development Center, as well as the Red Lion Area, Dallastown Area, Dover Area, Southern York County, South Eastern, Eastern York, West York Area and Central York school districts, she said.

The program: Aevidum — which uses the tagline "I've got your back" — began about 10 years ago in Lancaster County and works well, Gay said.

It teaches kids how to respect others, check for warning signs and get help, and she has wanted to bring it into York County since she ran for office, she said.

"We feel like, by having a peer-driven program, that they can reach their own classmates a lot better than the adults can," Gay said.

The coalition has wanted to bring York and Lancaster together in a concerted effort, and this is "basically the first chance to really do that," Richard said.

Now, the next step is to get even more people talking about mental health, she said.

"We just need the general public and the older adults to talk about it," Richard said. "We've just got to get rid of the stigma."

The future: Aevidum on Wednesday launched its Let's Talk, Pennsylvania! initiative, which aims at creating healthy schools where students feel accepted, appreciated, acknowledged and cared for, said Executive Director Joe Vulopas.

Almost 200 students, staff and administrators from York, Lancaster, Lebanon and Berks counties attended the Lancaster rally, he said.

"I'm a big, big believer that we have to create advocates," Vulopas said. "We have to show our students that, when something happens, they have a voice in this."

The program isn't a cure-all, but it empowers students by raising awareness about the top issues that affect them, he said.

Students become energized by the program because it embraces their voices and what they're going through, Vulopas said.

"Aevidum is one of the tools that schools can utilize to help start the discussion, help continue the discussion," he said.


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