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RBR Alumna and student Founder of Rutgers Suicide Prevention 5K Addresses her Alma Mater

RBR Alumna and student Founder of Rutgers Suicide Prevention 5K Addresses her Alma Mater

 

RBR Alumna Sophia Mazzini addresses her alma mater health classes as a guest speaker during the school’s  SOS program Fifteen years ago, the Red Bank Regional school community suffered an inconsolable loss with the suicide of a beloved student.  From that grief, the SOURCE, RBR’s School Based Youth Services Program, developed a suicide awareness program to inform its student body of the warning signs of suicide and to encourage students to speak up when they are concerned about themselves and others. With the epidemic of teen suicide only increasing overtime, programs like RBR’s Signs of Suicide (SOS) became mandatory for all public schools in New Jersey. 

            SOURCE clinician Becky Stevenson recently addressed a student health class stating, “The reason we are talking to you (about this) is that you know each other. You are the foot soldiers and have the potential to save a life. You don’t realize your full potential to save or improve someone’s life, even if you just say, ‘if you need something, I am here for you.’”

            She then asked the students, “What can you do if you suspect someone is suffering from depression and is at risk? She encouraged them to tell a trusted adult, a teacher, coach, parent or school counselor. Many people will say their friend will be upset with them. If a friend is telling you that they are in a bad place, or talking about suicide, they are trying to communicate something important to you. You will help them by sharing that information with a trusted adult.”

            The SOURCE considers the program very successful, as the Clinical Supervisor, Stacy Liss states, “At the conclusion of the program, students complete a form as to whether they need to speak to a counselor as a result of the presentation.  In each class, at least one or two students self-identify with serious concerns about themselves or for a friend.  We then can intervene and provide follow up counseling and other measures.” In addition to suicidal thoughts, students often communicate concerns such as anxiety, stress and family issues that without interventions may lead to serious mental health issues, including suicidal thinking.  

            For the Junior Signs of suicide presentations, the SOURCE invited a special guest speaker, Alumna Sophia Mazzini, to share her personal story and information about the “Into the Light” organization she and her family began.  Sophia’s mother, Yannah, also accompanied her daughter to the presentations.  Sophia described in detail the day her father died in April of 2016 when she was a senior at RBR.  Sophia was very open and forthcoming with the students about her dad’s death by suicide.  

            She shared that her Dad was a loving husband, father, son, brother and friend. He was a highly functioning individual who was successful. So, when he took his own life in spring 2016 at age 51 it was hard to accept.  She spoke about how he covered up his mental health issues because of stigma, so no one really suspected his deep-seated turmoil.  And like a lot of men, he suffered from a social stigma that perceived a strong, functioning man in a certain way; that they were not supposed to have depression or need counseling.

            Sophia shared statistics with the students. Forty five million adults over 18 live with mental illness and yet only 19.2 million receive help.  Of the latter, the vast majority are women because men shy away from treatment as the social stigma implies “they are supposed to be tough.” As a result, more men die by suicide then women.

            Sophia spoke about the importance of developing coping skills, ‘which will help us throughout our lives.” While accepting help is not always easy, she encouraged students to reach out to adults and to The Source when they are struggling. Sophia identified the student assistance counselor, Lori Todd as having helped her through this difficult time, although she was very resistant initially to speak with her.

            Sophia and her sister Artemis’ heartbreak led them to action.  The sisters, who both attended Rutgers, organized the group’s first 5k run in September of 2017 at the Rutgers’ campus.  It was a huge success attracting over 1500 participants and raising over $100,000.  They then founded a 501 © 3 organization at the university Into the Light to educate young people on suicide prevention and raise money to further awareness. Their organization’s stated mission is to “strive to rid the stigma around all mental health issues facing teen and young adults.”

The second annual Into the light 5k is planned for May 4 at Rutgers campus. The girls have appeared on panels for suicide prevention and have formed a club at Rutgers to personally involve fellow college students with this important effort.

            Sophia also encouraged the RBR students to seek the services of The SOURCE, explaining, “They make it very easy for you to succeed. They offer all types of free services, individual, group and family counseling. If you don’t want to meet during school hours you can meet after school as well.”

She added, “So many people are here for you; you may not have these services once you leave (RBR) so take advantage while you can.”

During the Signs of Suicide programs, RBR junior Claudia Kelly was also invited to promote the RBR sponsored Ridge Run Road on May 19.  Claudia had helped develop the run last year to bring awareness to suicide prevention following a tragedy at Rumson Fair Haven High School (RFH).  RBR students partnered with RFH and Red Bank Catholic students in staging the run. Both groups, Into the Light and Ridge Road Run pledged to work together to promote their events.

Sophia and Artemis Mom, Yannah explained that she is so proud of her daughters for how hard they worked and what they accomplished.  She recently joined their efforts when they sought to turn their vision into a fundraising effort explaining, “We feel this is such An important issue, so we all have to work together for our youth and our future.”

Artemis and Sophia Mazzini are pictured at their first annual Into the Light Run for Suicide Prevention