The trend is disturbing.

An increasing number of teens and preteens in New Jersey and across the nation are taking their own lives.

According to Tricia Baker, the co-founder of the youth suicide prevention group Attitudes In Reverse, the national suicide rate for those 12 and under has doubled over the past 10 years. Her own son, Kenny, took his own life when he was 19 years old.

The New Jersey Department of Children and Families keeps suicide data for children and young adults in three-year increments, and the most recent information available shows between 2014 and 2016 a total of 277 individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 died by suicide.

In response, Attitudes In Reverse, in partnership with the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, is presenting a special youth suicide prevention conference Monday.

The event, called "Storytellers, It’s Never Too Early To Talk To Children About Mental Health," will include a variety of programs for medical and behavioral healthcare providers, teachers and educational administrators as well as lawmakers and policymakers in government who work on issues related to children.

Baker said mental health disorders can present by age 14, so “we’re going to be talking about mental health first aid geared for people who work with young people, and what that does is help adults who are around children, help them identify signs and symptoms of early onset of mental health disorders.”

She said it’s vitally important “to let young people know that your brain is an organ, just like any other organ in the body — it can get sick but it can also get well.”

Baker said helping kids develop resiliency strategies can prevent tragedy down the road. That includes simple things like sleep, downtime, and time away from electronics.

“They really need to get out, take a walk, be in the fresh air," she said.

Baker said the conference will also feature a group of students from West Windsor Plainsboro Community Middle School talking about “some of their struggles and then things that they’ve helped to implement within their school so they can help other students.”

She said in addition the conference will include experiences of those who have reached out for help.

“We do have people who have lived through their own mental health crisis and then come out on the other side, come out victorious, they’re in recovery.”

She stressed “sometimes we think about mental health issues and we think that there’s no hope, but mental health disorders are actually highly treatable and we want to get that message out.”

The conference will also include an update on the use of therapy dogs in schools to help troubled students relax and cope.

“They go to the nurse's office, they pet the dog, and in less than 5 minutes they forgot why they don’t want to be in class, and they go back to class," Baker said.

Baker added it’s important for young people to understand “there is a chance to live a normal, healthy successful life, living with a mental health disorder.

The event is being co-sponsored by Hackensack Meridian Health Carrier Clinic and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's New Jersey chapter.

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