Working to Prevent Youth Suicide in Chester County


At a football game, two Coatesville School District administrators noticed a student looked sullen and not like herself.  They pulled the student aside and asked how she was doing. “Not well,” she replied.  They continued to talk to her, discovering that she was contemplating suicide. The administrators stayed with the student until her parents could pick her up and then connected the family with mental health resources. As a result, the student is getting the help she so desperately needs.

Thanks to the Brandywine Health Foundation’s Youth Mental Health First Aid training program, the school district employees recognized a youth in crisis, and even though they had planned on cheering for their team, they ended up saving a life.

Nearly three times as many people in Pennsylvania die by suicide annually than by homicide. In fact, suicide is the third leading cause of death for Pennsylvanians between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In Chester County, 60 suicide deaths were reported by the coroner’s office in 2015, which is more than double the number of suicide deaths that were reported 10 years ago.

Following two recent student deaths by suicide in the Coatesville School District, an eight-hour training was conducted for students involved in extracurricular organizations such as SADD and student council.  As a result, many felt comfortable referring themselves and their friends to suicide prevention sites. “So many of us are hurting,” said a student participant. “I hope this training will help me to help others.”

This year, United Way of Chester County provided a grant to support the personnel costs for the experienced staff that administer the program. This program grant is part of our commitment to improving the health of Chester County residents by recognizing the warning signs of negative situations and educating people about how to respond accordingly.

“Depression is a treatable medical condition, but too often, it goes unrecognized and is one the leading causes of death by suicide,” says Dana Heiman, Senior Vice President  with the Brandywine Health Foundation. “Thanks to United Way, we’re taking steps to help Chester County residents recognize the signs of depression in themselves and in others and empowering them to get help.”

Pictured are Chester County students who completed a Youth Mental Health First Aid training session.