On Sept. 10, in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is announcing the launch of the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, an expansive initiative that aims to tackle the epidemic of suicide among young people.
“We get calls every single day from families in desperate need of help because their tweens and teens are expressing suicidal feelings,” said Regina Barros-Rivera, associate executive director of the Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health agency. “And with the isolation and heightened anxiety brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s created an even more dangerous situation.”
Ever since the stay-at-home order was put into place, she said, the Guidance Center has noted a significant increase in depression and anxiety among children and their families.
“The impact of this disaster is ongoing,” said Barros-Rivera. “Kids have lost their school and social connections, and many families have experienced the loss of loved ones. As a result of being secluded in an unstable home, children may also be exposed to domestic violence, substance abuse, neglect or other forms of violence.”
While the pandemic has created a surge in emergency cases at the Guidance Center, the crisis of suicide among young people is not new.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24, with more teenagers and young adults dying from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and lung disease combined.
Elissa Smilowitz, who heads up the Triage & Emergency program at the Guidance Center, has been treating suicidal youngsters for several decades. She will also be providing leadership for the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project.
“We’ve always seen emergency cases within 24 to 48 hours, but with this new initiative, we will be expanding our efforts substantially,” said Smilowitz. With the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, the Guidance Center will continue to address high-risk cases with a thorough evaluation for suicide risk; multiple sessions of individual, group and family therapy each week; and an individualized treatment plan that focuses on safety strategies and healthy coping skills.
“I’m very excited that we will be increasing our outreach to the community with a focus on suicide prevention,” said Smilowitz. “With this new project, we will offer services that will decrease the prevalence of suicidal thinking and actions in our children and teens through education forums, both face-to-face and with webinars. In addition, we will launch a suicide survivors’ support group for those who suffer this tragic loss.”
The Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project is made possible by a generous gift from Donald and Ellen Feldman in memory of their son.
Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the Guidance Center, said, “We are grateful to the Feldmans for supporting the development of a suicide prevention initiative that will enhance our ability to reach young people who may see no way out from the despair they are feeling—especially during a time of unprecedented risk, deep divisions in our nation and a global pandemic.”
Donations to support the lifesaving work of the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project can be made on the Guidance Center’s website at www.northshorechildguidance.org. or by calling (516) 626-1971, ext. 320.