Jacobi hosts Preventing Teen Suicide conference

A community advisory board for two borough public hospitals recognized Mental Health Month in May.

The Joint Community Advisory Board of Jacobi Medical Center and North Central Bronx Hospital held a conference on ‘Preventing Teen Suicide’ on Monday, May 16.

It presented a variety of speakers and information on the subject.

The conference, the sixth annual conference on mental health topics, was held in conjunction with the Jacobi Auxiliary.

It was dedicated to the memory of longtime community activist, the late Blanche Comras-Rifkin, who was a CAB member for three decades, said event coordinator and CAB vice chairwoman Sylvia Lask.

“It is such a timely subject at this point,” said Lask, adding that she chose the topic after Peter Cronkite, the grandson of legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite, committed suicide in 2015, days before he was to graduate college.

“This is a kid who came from a wonderful family and there was no one there to help him, and it touched me,” she said. “I began looking at statistics and I learned that there is so much suicide among young people and it is going up.”

She is not quite sure what is causing the rise in teen suicide, but bullying or concerns about the future could be reasons, she said.

“The comments I got at the conference were just amazing, she said, estimating that there were 130 to 145 attendees.

Among the presenters at the symposium were Tom Templeton, a public policy specialist, and David Woodlock, Institute for Community Living president.

Councilman Andrew Cohen, chair of the council’s committee on mental health, and Maryanne Popiel, chair of behavioral healthcare services at Jacobi and North Central Bronx Hospitals, presented remarks.

The keynote speaker was Tom O’Clair, family affairs advocacy specialist with Office of Mental Health who fought to pass a mental health insurance parity law called Timothy’s Law, named after his son Timothy O’Clair who committed suicide in 2001 when he was an adolesnent. He presented on the topic of Timothy’s Law.

Prior to the passage of the law in 2006, insurance companies could limit the number of outpatient visits per year.

“Any suicide, regardless of age, can be prevented, and in order to prevent it you have to have the proper tools,” said O’Clair, who added that the conference opened a door in terms of helping people further their knowledge about suicide prevention and helped dispel some of the myths.

“People walked away with a better understanding of what suicide prevention is and how they can participate in it,” he said.

Jacobi interim CEO Chris Fugazy said that the medical community needs to do all it can to increase awareness, education and prevention.

“As the father of two teen girls myself, I cannot imagine the heartache and despair surrounding such tragedies,” said Fugazy, adding “I commend our community advisory board, and Lask in particular, for being out in front on this issue.”

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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