It is a phone call the staff at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center gets all too often: A parent is in despair, saying their son or daughter is experiencing severe depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. And the situation has worsened due to the COVID-19 virus. “The isolation brought on by the pandemic is hard on everyone, but it’s especially difficult for young people,” says Regina Barros-Rivera, Associate Executive Director at the Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health organization.
Sadly, suicide among young people is not a new problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Americans ages 10-24, with more teens and young adults dying from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, birth
defects and other major illnesses combined. This past September, the Guidance Center launched a new program, the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, an expansive initiative that aims to tackle the epidemic of suicide among young people. “Through the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, we will bring essential, life-changing services to the children and families in our community,” says Elissa Smilowitz, who is heading up the new program. “We will address high-risk cases with a thorough evaluation for suicide risk; multiple weekly sessions of individual, group and family therapy; and a culturally sensitive treatment plan that focuses on safety strategies, healthy coping skills and relapse prevention.” Evaluation with a psychiatrist regarding the possible use of medication will also be provided,
along with in-home treatment and referrals to programs and services that will support parents’ efforts to protect their children. The Guidance Center will also provide educational forums and a suicide survivors’ support group for those who suffer this tragic loss. Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director of the Guidance Center, says, “We are grateful to the Feldmans for enabling us to develop 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. It’s a prime example of how our dedicated supporters (including the Community Chest) make a profound difference in the well-being of our community.” He adds, “Join us in spreading the word to schools, community organizations and friends. Information is power, and this program can save lives.”