By Deb Silverthorn
To save a life is to save the world, says the Talmud, and an upcoming symposium on teen suicide will share how everyone can help save lives.
“13 Reasons Why NOT — Turning the Tide of Teen Suicide Through Positive Mental Health” will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, and is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Center for Jewish Education (CJE) and Jewish Family Service.
High school and college students, parents and family members, educators, practitioners, youth directors and advisors, rabbis, and community leaders are invited to the free event, which requires advance registration.
“Teen suicide and suicide in general has touched our community, and it’s touched hard — the only way it can,” said CJE Executive Director Meyer Denn. “Our youth directors asked for help and we responded, hoping the community will absorb all our experts will share.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports 44,965 completed suicides each year — 123 suicides per day — in the United States, though it estimates a higher number.
“The web is wide, and between our mission of education and JFS’ mental health expertise, this will be a significant afternoon. We adults need to learn to listen and our children need to learn to talk,” Denn said. “It’s emotional, but I know everyone will leave surer and more settled.”
After speaking with Efrem Epstein, founder of Elijah’s Journey, which focused on pikuach nefesh (saving lives), Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name) and simcha (happiness), Denn knew it was clear that his idea of youth and adults learning together hadn’t been done — but was necessary.
“Education is primary in society, but we don’t teach coping skills or cultivate resiliency. Our children and our adults need to know they can talk to those around them,” said Josh Rivedal, an actor, author and founder of The i’Mpossible Project and Changing Minds, who will present the keynote to start the symposium. “This program isn’t therapy or judgment; I promise laughter and smiles. I’ve been in crisis and I believe no one is beyond saving.”
Rivedal’s keynote will be “Kicking My Blue Genes to the Curb,” his 15-character, seven-song one-man show that ends with his father’s suicide. The comedic, yet poignant, true story is designed to create an emotional connection between attendees and send the message that suicide is preventable.
Afterward will be a question-and-answer period regarding everything from signs and symptoms of depression and suicide, to how to help oneself or a friend.
Then will come separate tracks for teens and college students, and adults. No adults except JFS clinicians will be allowed in the student workshops.
Rivedal will present two sessions for the student track:
“How to Make Lemons into Lemonade” is an interactive workshop based on the story of his mental health and how developing coping skills saved his life. This program is designed to help students eliminate unhealthy coping skills, prepare for change and avoid burnout.
“How to Live Mentally Well and Crush It in High School and College” presentation will help students develop empathy, self-compassion and healthy habits, teach how to unstick when stuck, deal with reframing failure, inform about entering the job market and more.
Yeshiva University Dean of Students Chaim Nissel will address adults during the breakout sessions.
“We’re doing gatekeeper training to recognize who may have such thoughts but won’t typically ask for help,” said Nissel, who is also with the American Association of Suicidology. “Anyone can be a gatekeeper. Each of us has the chance to give the sense that life has meaning. If this isn’t in your home, it may be next door or down the street.”
Nissel’s conversation of “Keeping Families Safe” is meant to help participants better understand suicide and the risk factors. Participants will learn to recognize verbal and behavioral clues of suicide and how to respond to suicidal statements. He will also exploring common myths of suicide and discuss strategies to prevent suicide attempts and completions.
Joining Nissel will be:
JFS’ Ariela Goldstein, leading “You’re Only Human: How Life’s Traumas Impact Suicide in the Family.”
Janet Henson, who will present “Lost In Translation: How to Communicate With Your Child about Important Life Choices Including Suicide.”
Dr. Mike Ligocki, speaking on “Mean Girls (and Boys): Bullying and Its Impact on Suicide.”
Yolanda Swope, who will discuss “When Bad Things Happen to Good People — Factors that Contribute to Teen Suicide.”
“Our kids go through much and the number of completed suicides by teens is growing — growing in our community — this isn’t ‘somewhere else,’” Henson said. “Being able to answer ‘what do I do when I have this thought,’ or ‘how do I help my friend,’ and ‘who do I call,’ before a ‘moment,’ is critical.”
Nissel will also lead a morning section for clinicians, which is Continuing Education-credit eligible, and a midday section for rabbinical leadership.
Nissel will conduct the closing session to the entire group: “Saving One Life — Saving the Whole World,” designed to further reduce stigma associated with suicide and mental illness, and review the importance of social and familial support with the goal of creating better support networks for those in need.
The program is sponsored by Dallas Jewish Women International, David and Lorraine Hoppenstein Charitable Fund of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation, Helen and Frank Risch, and the Schultz Family Foundation. Several other Jewish community organizations and schools are serving as partners.
“We’ve used television to
babysit, social media to get information, and we fight back rather than dialogue, becoming a reactive rather than proactive society,” said CJE Program Coordinator Karen Schlosberg. “We need this information because it does take a village, the whole village. Dallas is an incredible village, and on this day we’ll become a greater one.”
“I believe that everyone should attend and that everyone who does, will learn something, will grow and will care,” Nissel said. “That’s what we Jews do. That’s what humans do.”
Visit jewishdallas.org/cje/whynot to register for this free event or call Karen Schlosberg at 214-239-7131 for more information.