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Content warning: This story contains mention of suicide.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. The hotline is staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who can offer free, confidential support. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call 1-800-799-4889.
Tricia Baker co-founded Attitudes in Reverse (AIR) in 2009 after her son, Kenny, who had been diagnosed with depression, died by suicide three weeks before his high school graduation. Kenny’s death made Baker realize that many teens struggle with mental health issues and that they are afraid to talk about it and seek help.
“Mental illness is like air, just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, it’s all around us,” she said.
According to the most recent CDC data, 94 youth ages 10 to 24 died by suicide in New Jersey in 2021. That’s the second leading cause of death among youth in that age range for the Garden State. The National Institute of Health reports 20% of children ages three to 17 have either a mental or a behavioral disorder. Between 2008 and 2020, suicide rates for children ages 12 to 17 increased by 16%, according to the institute.
Through AIR, an educational non-profit organization, Baker and her team are trying to provide support to struggling youth.
“We go into schools and we provide mental wellness education for students in kindergarten all the way through college,” she said. “We want young people to understand what these brain illnesses are, we want them to understand they are biological, that there is help available, and that there’s always people that are willing to listen.”
Children at Hopewell Valley Elementary school enjoy an AIR presentation with a therapy dog. (Courtesy Attitudes in Reverse)