Juvenile Justice Advisory Board (JJAB) Co-coordinator Ellen Ben-Naim spoke to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos Oct. 22 on current efforts to prevent teen suicide in Los Alamos.
Ben-Naim began her tenure as co-coordinator of JJAB in October, 2012. She has lived in Los Alamos since 1996 and has been active in the community both professionally and as a volunteer.
Attention was focused on the problem of teen suicide by the deaths of a Los Alamos High School student and that of a University of New Mexico student from Los Alamos earlier this year, Ben-Naim said.
“One of our issues [in Los Alamos] is denial,” she said. “We have trouble admitting we have some problems, especially around our youth, and suicide is one of them.”
County Social Services Manager Kim Gabaldon approached the JJAB staff to put together a taskforce on the issue this spring. More than 30 people shared their concerns at the first meeting.
The group decided to focus on three areas: prevention, intervention and “post-vention,” or helping to pick up the pieces after a suicide, Ben Naim said.
The statewide Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey shows some surprising data on Los Alamos Youth, Ben-Naim said. The survey is offered to a selection of high schools and middle schools in each school district in the fall of odd-numbered years. All data are self-reported by students who voluntarily complete the survey during one class period. Visit http://www.youthrisk.org/ to see the survey.
Although Los Alamos scores well in many categories, in use of alcohol before age 13 and use of illegal drugs, Los Alamos scored at the state average.
Perhaps the most troubling statistic in the study was the data on suicide, where 22.5 percent of Los Alamos High School students said they had seriously contemplated suicide. The state average is 16.7 percent.
This summer, the taskforce began work on an action plan on intervention. “We want to recognize when a youth is in trouble get them help as soon as possible,” Ben Naim said. The action plan is still in progress at this time.
Los Alamos is already seeing the benefits of the task force’s work. A full week of seminars, lectures and other activities took place Sept. 8-14. The following week, students at Los Alamos High School organized a Suicide Awareness Week at the High School, culminating with a nationally prominent speaker on the topic, Ben Naim said.
Also in September, training on “post-vention” was organized and attended by 15 people.
Because of funding cuts, JJAB needs to transition out of the leadership role in this area, Ben-Naim said. It is uncertain what groups or agencies will fill that role at this time, although JJAB will continue to be involved with the project.