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Teen Suicides Up; Communication Key to Prevention

Teen suicide - North Hills Monthly Magazine

The statistics and facts are alarming—suicides have jumped 29 percent in teens 15-19 years of age in the past decade according to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings Health of Women and Children Report.

For young women, the numbers are even more frightening. According to the CDC, there has been an “unprecedented” rise in suicidal thoughts and unhappiness among teen women in the U.S. with an increase of nearly 60 percent from just a decade ago. The rise has been, in part, contributed to the pandemic.

Erin Barr

But the statistics aren’t just national figures and Pittsburgh teens aren’t immune, according to Erin Barr, director of youth services for UpStreet Pittsburgh, which offers free mental health services for teens and young adults.

“We’ve been seeing these increases here in western PA as well, but I think that the world in now paying more attention to mental health and that is a good thing,” she said. “We are having more conversations and seeing more resources to help our young people.”

UpStreet was created by JFCS (Jewish Family and Community Services) when they recognized that young people were struggling, Barr explained. “JFCS felt that there was a lack of mental health services for young people and felt the need to do something. They began offering free mental health services for young people in western Pennsylvania,” she said. By offering services at no-cost and accessibility online, UpStreet offers barrier-free mental health services.

UpStreet offers drop-in consultations with trained therapists, scheduled therapy appointments, support groups and text-based peer support and offers a wealth of other resources for youth, parents, and schools. Because the services are accessed through the website, not only can local teens and families utilize UpStreet’s services, but anyone with computer access can take advantage of the services.

Recognizing when a teen may need additional support can be difficult and confusing to not only the teen, but to parents. “It is hard to know what a ‘normal teenage’ issue is—there are so many hormonal and other changes with teens, you never know if it is something to be concerned about,” Barr said. But parents and others should always err in the way of safety, she advised.

There are factors that parents and friends can use as warning signs that indicate additional mental health support may be needed. “Look for major changes in personality; are they less interested in things they used to love? For example, if they are typically a theater kid and all of a sudden they lose interest, that is something to be aware of,” Barr said. Other indicators may be lack of interest in friends or a sudden change in friends, lack of attention to coursework and dropping out of sports when those areas used to be important.

An increase in drug and alcohol use is obviously a concern, Barr said, as well as talk of despair.

“If your teen is talking about feeling hopeless, lack of direction, wanting to die—those are all signals,” said Barr. “And if your teen is doing any kind of self-harm, that is cause for concern. Of course, this doesn’t definitely mean they are suicidal, but it can be a signal for help.”

Parents and loved ones should simply start a conversation with their teens, Barr suggested. “Just talk to your kid. Start checking in with them. Ask, ‘How was your day?’ Then address their feelings,” she said. For example, Barr said, if your child doesn’t get a part in a play, ask them how they feel about it.

Another suggestion was to bring up key issues in the news, including ones that may have topics that concern you. “You can say, ‘I saw this in the news. Do you think it affects any of your friends?’ That can get them talking,” Barr said. “Talk to them about things that say, ‘I’m interested in you.’”

Barr said that it is okay for parents to know that they don’t have all of the answers and to reach out for support. “Start by appreciating that things might be hard and scary for your child and say, ‘Let’s figure this out together,’” she said.

In addition to providing services and resources for young people, their parents and loved ones, another focus of UpStreet is to reduce the stigma of seeking mental health support. UpStreet works with several local schools and organizations to increase awareness and to provide programming.

“We work with organizations to bring awareness to the issues. There is a tendency to say, ‘This is not happening here. This is the North Hills; we don’t have these issues,’” she said.

As part of this programming, UpStreet works with local school districts including Fox Chapel Area School District, Pittsburgh CAPA, Taylor Allderdice High School and others. “Schools play a big role in reaching teens. We can provide programming to schools and can tailor it to whatever they want and need,” Barr said.

UpStreet provides numerous resources for teens and parents. Visit, or 412-586-3732.

For more information and emergency services:

Call or text 988 or visit for immediate assistance.

Resolve: 1-888-796-8226.

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Hotlines are 24-hour, toll-free confidential sources.

Fox Chapel Students Win First Place in Prevent Suicide PSA Competition

Zoe Broyles
Zoe Broyles

“It felt amazing to know that we contributed to possibly saving someone’s life,” Zoe Broyles said after learning that she and fellow Fox Chapel Area High School student, Cali Johnson, were the first-place winners in the Prevent Suicide PA PSA contest for Youth Suicide Prevention.

Zoe, 17, and Cali 18, are both seniors at Fox Chapel and in Ryan Devlin’s Advanced Digital Media Production class. When Devlin presented his students with a variety of projects to select from, Cali decided she wanted to create the PSA on teen suicide prevention.

“I originally was going to do a very simplistic but powerful message that was only going to focus information on the 988 crisis line,” Cali explained. But when Cali and Zoe decided to partner up for the project, Zoe mentioned an idea from one of Justin Bieber’s music videos.

“We were inspired by his ‘Where Are You Now?’ music video with colorful, hand-drawn images and sayings in the background. We wanted to incorporate that aspect into the PSA,” Zoe said.

The video, which won the 60-second video category, features Cali discussing the 988 National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and encouraging teens to reach out for assistance while other Fox Chapel Area High School students write positive messages on a dry-erase board behind her.

Cali Johnson
Cali Johnson

Cali was the producer, editor, on-screen camera person, and scriptwriter while Zoe served as a scriptwriter and producer. As part of their award, Zoe and Cali attended Suicide Prevention Night at the Pittsburgh Pirates in April. They also received a monetary award, and Prevent Suicide PA will come to Fox Chapel Area High School to provide a mental health awareness training for up to 20 students.

The winners were selected based on their rankings in the Prevent Suicide PA Advisory voting, schoolwide voting, and public voting. “The excitement of learning that we won was immense, and we are so proud of what we produced. It is also incredible to represent Fox Chapel High School and all that this Digital Media class offers,” Cali said.

Cali plans on attending Ithaca College for Television and Digital Media Production while Zoe is still deciding between attending the University of Pittsburgh for Communications or Ithaca College for Television and Digital Media Production in the fall.

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