You Said It: A Community Approach to Suicide Prevention

After losing their 17-year-old daughter to suicide in 1985, Sue and Jackson Smart established The Alison Tobey Smart Memorial Fund Committee at Kenilworth Union Church to honor Alison’s memory and prevent similar tragic events. More than 35 years and 100 current and former committee members later, the fund continues its important work.

You may find it shocking to know that according to the CDC, suicide is now the second leading cause of death amongst 15–19 year-olds. This disturbing statistic is likely a direct result of the rapid rise of anxiety and depression in our youth. A 2021 global analysis by the JAMA Network of more than 80,000 youth under the age of 19 concluded that 25% of children are currently depressed and 21% suffer from anxiety. These numbers have doubled since the start of the pandemic.    

This is what makes the work of the Alison Tobey Smart Memorial Fund so important. The Fund’s programming seeks to reduce suicide and suicide attempts by developing and implementing programs focused on problems common to many young adults such as substance abuse, self-destructive behavior, and depression. To highlight some of its efforts, ATS contributes to agencies that help strengthen teens’ mental health, sends care packages and valentines to college freshmen, celebrates and blesses Kenilworth Union Church’s graduating seniors at an annual senior brunch, distributes awards to young people who served the community with distinction, and offers confidential financial aid to families in need who are struggling to provide treatment for their teenagers.

While it is important to know what the ATS Memorial Fund does, it is equally important to know what you can do. Depression and anxiety are frequently quiet struggles; however, there are warning signs. Indicators of suicidal behavior include talking about dying, changes in personality, behavior, sleep patterns or eating habits, and a fear of losing control. We need to do more for our kids by staying involved in their lives and letting them know that we care about them, and that God cares about them. 

It is important to note that counseling services are a critical component in helping protect our youth. A study by the National Library of Medicine concluded that suicide prevention interventions are effective in preventing completed and attempted suicides and should be widely implemented. As such, if a student has any suicidal thoughts, it is always important for them to let others know, such as members of the school, church, family, or friends. Talking about mental health has proven to be an important tool in improving mental health.

So, I am proud to report that the mission of the Alison Tobey Smart Memorial Fund continues today 37 years later, bringing awareness to mental health and bringing support to the youth of Kenilworth Union Church and the surrounding community. ATS proudly supports the following local mental health organizations working to support families and youth: Erika’s Lighthouse, Family Service Center, Elyssa’s Mission, Counseling Center of the North Shore, LEAD, The Josselyn Center, and the Warming House Youth Center. These organizations may be a resource for you or a friend, too, and we hope you will keep them and us in mind.

As part of our “You Said It” Op-Ed series, we invite contributors to submit their opinion pieces. Have a submission? Contact us.

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Peter Hepner is the Founder, Advisor for Purchasing Platform., Inc.

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