Teachers need more education on suicide prevention

by Mikayla Kim, Staff Writer

In February of 2007, Glen Rock High School senior Zachary Toskovich was found dead in the internal courtyard of Glen Rock High School. After texting and emailing his friends and family to say that he loved them and to say goodbye, Toskovich committed suicide by jumping off of the roof of Glen Rock’s two-story high school.

To everyone around Zachary, he appeared to be a happy person and was always seen with a smile on his face. In addition to being an intelligent and hardworking student, Toskovich was known for helping others with school work or personal problems. He had already been accepted into an Ivy League college, which he planned to attend after graduating. Furthermore, Toskovich was part of many of the high school’s different clubs and academic teams.

Yet underneath this facade, Zachary’s suicide note described the pain he was feeling and the exhaustion he felt of all of his failures that occurred before his death. In general, the signs of depression and suicide are very difficult to detect and many people are uninformed of what the signs look like.

In the years following Zachary’s death in 2007, many other teen suicides have occurred, and the suicide rate in Bergen County as well as New Jersey continues to rise.

Since high school students spend most of their time in school, Bergen County teachers should receive more instruction on detecting signs of suicide and depression and knowing how to deal with suicidal students. By doing this, it will help prevent the increasingly high rate of teen suicides in Bergen County.

A mandatory school policy for specifically New Jersey schools, last amended by the New Jersey government in 2006, requires teachers to take at least two hours of instruction on suicide prevention in each professional developmental period. As stated by Justia US Law, “[the instruction] is to be provided by licensed health care professionals with training and experience in mental health issues.”

After being amended in 2006, a year before Zachary’s death, the state regulated policy has not been changed since. 

Clearly, though this state policy has been required in Bergen County for many years now, it has not done much to prevent suicide, since the number of teen suicides that occur in Bergen County continues to increase. This regulation did not prevent Zachary’s death or the deaths of many other Bergen County students that have committed suicide since his death in 2007. 

According to the 2017 New Jersey Youth Suicide Report, from 2013 to 2017, 30 people ranging from ages 10-24 committed suicide in Bergen County alone. This gives Bergen County the highest suicide rate out of all of the counties in New Jersey, compared to Essex County and Monmouth County, who both experienced 24 and 23 suicides (ages 10-24) from 2013-2017 respectively.

In order for the increasing suicide rate to slow down, teachers and teaching assistants in Bergen County should attend multiple mandatory annual presentations and/or workshops on suicide prevention. These presentations/workshops would specifically instruct on the detection of signs regarding depression and suicide, and knowing how to deal with students that are considering taking their own lives.This education would be in addition to the two hours of instruction on suicide prevention that is required by the state. 

By increasing the education of teachers on how to detect suicide and how to deal with suicidal students, many schools around Bergen County, including Glen Rock High School, can provide a more comfortable environment for students that are suffering from mental health issues. Additionally, it will encourage students to talk to their teachers if they are suicidal or suffering from depression.

As a freshman in high school, I am more aware of the topics of suicide and mental illness than in previous years, because people are now more open in 2019 about discussing topics surrounding suicide and mental health issues. Over the years, more television shows feature characters that have mental illnesses. Specifically, shows like 13 Reasons Why and This Is Us present characters, both teenagers and adults, suffering from depression and anxiety. 

This increase in awareness is mainly due to the national and statewide rise in deaths by suicide and the rise of mental illnesses that teens struggle with. We live in a society where depression is affecting many teenagers, specifically high school students, and where teen suicides are common due to many societal pressures. These societal pressures include the high expectations of school, social media, and substance abuse.

Specifically in Glen Rock, personnel from the guidance department and special services have to present information on suicide prevention annually. However, many other towns in Bergen County only require the bare minimum of suicide prevention education for district faculty. This presents a problem because not enough is being done by the Bergen County schools to prevent students from taking their own life. Suicide is an issue that is growing not only statistically, but also in importance and awareness.

Despite the fact that this extensive education for school faculty will try to fix the growing teen suicide problem, my proposed solution will not fix everything, nor will it completely fix the high teen suicide rates in Bergen County. 

For the amount of time that students are in school, their well being is in the hands of school administrators and faculty. By learning how to identify the signs of suicidal students and how to deal with students that are suicidal, teachers can talk to students and provide them with support. This will help students realize that there are solutions to their problems, and that they can talk to someone about it.