AP NEWS

Westhill student adds suicide prevention number to ID cards

February 21, 2019

STAMFORD — It was a social media post that got Westhill High School senior Alyssa Goldberg thinking about how to improve her classmates’ mental health.

Social media is normally associated with an increased risk of depression, but Goldberg, 17, saw a post encouraging students to push for placing the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on the back of their student ID cards and decided to bring the same to her school.

“I think it’s something cool to have,” Goldberg said. “This is a way for every student to have it in their wallet.”

Placing the hotline number on Westhill student IDs seemed like a natural choice: the cards already contain other important information like the number for the school and its website. But it also made sense to have it available to teens.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are an average of 129 suicides daily in the United States, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the country. And the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults.

Suicide also hits close to home. In 2013, two Stamford high school students committed suicide within months of one another. And earlier this month, 16-year-old Hailey Nailor of Danbury committed suicide after a long battle with mental illness and trauma.

For Goldberg, bringing mental health and illness out of the shadows has always been a passion. Her freshman year, she joined the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, a youth activism organization dedicated to public awareness activities, volunteer programs and social change campaigns. She’s now risen to the executive board of the group, which is focused on addressing mental health.

“I’ve always had a personal drive to talk about mental health,” she said. “Everyone experiences mental health, whether you have mental illness or have a bad day.”

Goldberg said MYLC gave her the opportunity to address mental health, but getting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on student IDs was a personal effort. Goldberg approached Westhill Principal Michael Rinaldi with the idea a few weeks ago when Rinaldi was greeting students outside school in the morning.

“She asked if we could have this suicide prevention hotline number put on the back of student IDs going forward,” Rinaldi said. “I thought it was a wonderful idea. ... That’s very helpful. It was different a student would come to me and say how about this?”

Rinaldi said the process of putting the number on the ID cards is simple: it can be done through the company that takes students’ class photos and also distributes the cards. But the impact can be massive.

“In my view, it’s important,” Rinaldi said. “When kids get their ID, they’re going to look at it and see that it’s there. And they may never think about it again. But if they happen to get involved with a friend having difficulties or they’re feeling affected themselves, they know that resource is right there. They don’t have to worry or wonder about it. It’s simple in its concept, but I think Alyssa’s idea is profound.”

In addition to the hotline number and advocacy from MYLC, Rinaldi said Westhill also continues to provide traditional services to students including offering them assistance from guidance counselors and social workers.

The MYLC chapter at Academy of Information Technology and Engineering also got approval to add the hotline number to the back of student ID cards for next year.

According to Joe O’Callaghan, the district department head for social work, the district has been looking systemically at how it addresses mental health and what programs and supports are working for students.

“There’s been a trend over a longer period, over the last 15 years, of a real uptick in kids’ mental health issues,” O’Callaghan said. “It’s a national issue, but it’s affecting us here as well.”

In addition, O’Callaghan said students have undertaken running awareness activities to help reduce stigma.

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata