It’s an alarming, frightening and incomprehensible statistic. The suicide rate among kids ages 10-14 nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017, while the suicide rate among older teenagers has increased by 76 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. What should we be worried about as parents when it comes to our kids’ mental health? What kinds of conversations should we be having with our kids, especially about suicide? What type of care and treatment are available in New Jersey? We asked Dr. Marianne Farag, medical director of Psychiatric Emergency Services at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, these questions and more.
Trinitas is New Jersey’s only hospital with inpatient beds for children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness. It’s also one of the nation’s few behavioral health hospitals with its own Primary Care Medical Clinic and is home to one of just two crisis units for adolescents in New Jersey and a 15-bed residential facility for teens. Trinitas is holding an upcoming fundraising event focused on raising awareness about mental health and raising money for much-needed upgrades to the center. Actress, author, and activist Mariel Hemingway, who comes from a family with a legacy of mental illnesses including suicide and addiction, will speak at the event on October 29 at the Park Savoy in Florham Park. Here Farag gives advice about how to talk to our kids and shares Trinitas’ mission to support those struggling with mental health issues.
New Jersey Family: Adolescents are reporting alarming rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Preteen suicide attempts in New Jersey have increased at a startling rate since 2018, according to the New Jersey Poison Control Center. Oftentimes, there are no clear warning signs. What advice do you have for parents of preteens and teens in the wake of these alarming numbers?
Dr. Marianne Farag: Be involved in your child’s life. Know their friends, their interests, speak their language and try to see everything from their perspective. Keep open communication and an open mind so that they feel comfortable being able to come to you and talk to you. Try to limit the use of social media. Encourage and promote healthy habits. Promote positive self-esteem and help them feel loved and appreciated to help them know their worth and value as people. Be understanding and let them know that you are there for them. Life can be difficult and teens have a difficult time speaking to their parents. Let them know that there are supports and tools along the way to help them. These tools are readily available through many modalities of treatments including school counselors and in mental health clinics, outpatient settings and in hospitals such as Trinitas.
NJF: Teenage girls seem to be especially at risk of clinical depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. What should we be saying to our sons and daughters about this? What kinds of conversations should we be having?
Dr. Farag: Teenage girls are especially susceptible due to self-esteem problems they deal with. The growing use of social media has them constantly comparing themselves to others. They start valuing themselves based on the number of “likes” they get on their pictures or the number of “friends” they have on social media. Body image issues also develop through this increased use of social media which can lead to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Mental health problems have vastly increased with this increased use of social media. Teens are also very vulnerable to peer pressure and have not yet developed the life skills to deal with their emotions and the surmounting problems being thrown into their lives. Be understanding of everything your child is going through and let them know that you are there for them. Watch for any signs or symptoms of anxiety or depression, changes in personality or behaviors, and seek professional help if there is a change in level of functioning or any safety concern and especially if you are still having a difficult time getting through to them or they are not opening up to you.
NJF: At the Trinitas Department of Behavioral Health and Psychiatry in Elizabeth, you deal with these issues in a clinical setting. What type of care and treatment do you offer children and teens?
Dr. Farag: There are many modalities of treatment to evaluate and treat patients. Treatments range from an ER visit for evaluation and referral, children’s mobile crisis outreach (perform care) which provides in home therapy to all of Union County and responds to in-home emergencies, child and adolescent outpatient clinic for individual therapies, group therapies and medication management by a psychiatrist as needed, child and adolescent partial hospital program, intensive outpatient programs (IOP) which provide daily treatment for either a full day program or after school program, substance abuse services for children. We also have a child and adolescent inpatient unit for acute psychiatric stabilization and/or safety concerns.
NJF: Trinitas also offers critical psychiatric emergency, consulting, and training programs in every county in New Jersey. Can you tell us how NJ families can access this?
Dr. Farag: For Union County residents, the fastest way to get immediate help is to call Trinitas. Trinitas’ Adult Psychiatric Emergency/Mobile Crisis unit can be reached at 908-994-7131. For Children’s Mobile Response and Stabilization, call 877-652-7624. Anyone in New Jersey can call the NJ Mental Health Cares Helpline at 866-202-4357 to be directed to behavioral health services in your county. Union County residents will be directed to Trinitas via this helpline as needed.
NJF: You’re currently conducting a two-year, $4.4 million renovation of your facility in Elizabeth. What are the goals of this renovation?
Dr. Farag: Our goal is to create a home away from home for the thousands of patients who utilize our facilities every year. Our behavioral health facility was over 100 years old, and it looked worn and run-down. Trinitas’ amazing staff and services did not match the look and feel of the facility, so we are aiming to create an environment that matches the high standard of care we provide to patients. After much research, we know that patients are able to heal faster in a therapeutic, refreshed environment. At the end of the day, this campaign to renovate the space is all about helping our patients in their recovery.
NJF: You’re holding a major fundraiser next week focusing on mental health. What can we expect at this event?
Dr. Farag: Actress, author, and activist Mariel Hemingway will be interviewed by journalist Jack Ford at this cocktail reception and discussion event. Mariel comes from a family with a legacy of mental illnesses including suicide and addiction. At our event, she will share how she has overcome what some call her family’s “curse.” Please join us on October 29th at 6:30 pm at The Park Savoy Estate in Florham Park if you’d like to hear more of Mariel’s story and support our patients! Tickets are available now on the Trinitas website.