Youth suicide — the alarming numbers in New Jersey
When Ethan Cullen died by suicide at age 25, it was not a shock to his family.
Three years prior, he attempted to take his own life, but called the cops in time to be saved. And for years prior, he was on medication and in treatment for depression and anxiety.
"We did know that it was a possibility. We lived with that all the time," said Caryn Cullen, Ethan's mother, of Manalapan. "One night, I was making dinner, and he said, 'Bye Mom, I'm going to my friend's house.' But actually he wasn't."
Within two weeks, she and her husband joined a survivors of suicide support group in Pennington, to connect with others who were experiencing the same pain. They were surprised to see how many people were in need of this support — it was just one group, in one borough. And her son was the oldest victim.
Sept. 30 marks four years since Ethan's death.
"It's a daily struggle," she said. "You learn to live with it, I guess, after a while. But it doesn't really get easier."
In New Jersey, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among youth between 10 and 24 years of age, statistics show.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 291 individuals aged 10 to 24 died by suicide between 2016 and 2018 in the Garden State, for a rate of 5.7 per 100,000. The rate was 4.1 per 100,000 in the state from 2007 to 2009 (211 suicides), CDC data show.
"We were very worried about the rates of suicide prior to the pandemic, and since the pandemic we have seen an increase in anxiety, depression, among our youth and actually among adults as well," said Susan Tellone, clinical director for the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, located in Monmouth County.
Tellone said emergency rooms are "fuller than they ever have been" with kids who've attempted suicide. Suicidal ideation is an issue in children as young as 5 years old, she said.
The scope of the problem can't be measured only by deaths, advocates note. In 2019, according to state and federal data, nearly 6% of New Jersey high school students attempted suicide. Nationwide, the rate was 8.9%.
"They need to know that somebody cares about them, that their life matters, and that there is hope," said Eleanor Letcher, executive director for CONTACT of Mercer County, a crisis and suicide prevention hotline.
CONTACT volunteers answer local emergencies and calls that come in to the national hotline. Younger individuals, Letcher said, are more likely to reach out through text or chat options.
"It gives you time to think, and it's just a much more comfortable medium for teens," she said. "This is the way they communicate."
New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline: 1-855-654-6735
- Crisis Textline: Text NJ to 741741
- National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-TALK
- 2ndFloor Youth Helpline: 1-888-222-2228
If your life or someone else's is in imminent danger, call 911.