October 21, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
47°F

United Way: County failing to address teen suicide

A local civic leader is calling for increased efforts to find ways to prevent teenage suicides.

Seth Kujat, executive director of United Way of Medina County, said the deaths of two Brunswick High School students since Friday highlight the need for action.

Seth Kujat

Seth Kujat

“This really is the community’s responsibility to work together to better engage our youth,” Kujat said. “We know this is the greatest need of Medina County, and we have data to prove it.”

Kujat said a countywide “needs assessment” survey done by a Toledo research firm in 2012 found 25 percent of high school students in Medina County described themselves as depressed, 20 percent have seriously considered suicide and 7 percent actually attempted it.

“I would say it definitely hasn’t gotten better because it’s taken us this long to get to the point where we’re talking about implementing programs,” Kujat said.

Matthew Homyk, a freshman, died Friday. Anthony Gill, a senior, was found dead Monday.

If their deaths are ruled suicides by the county coroner, they would be the fifth and sixth suicides of teenage students in Medina County in just more than two years.

Kujat said county agencies and school districts are failing to identify youngsters who may be at risk.

“We need to provide resources and programs that will better serve the individual child,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we need new programs, but it means giving schools and other agencies the resources to amp up what they’re already offering.”

Kujat said an “E4 Youth Summit” — short for Equip, Educate, Empower and Engage — is planned for Feb. 18-19 at the Blair Center in Westfield Center.

During the two-day gathering, about 250 Medina County high school students will be encouraged to become a voice in their community and to build a vision for their future.

“The intent is to let the youth help decide how we’re going to solve these problems, and we’re going to fund their ideas and let them decide where to invest that money,” Kujat said.

Kujat held a “youth summit” Sept. 27 to address the growing problem of teenage suicides. He called for the conference after reading “Anatomy of a teen suicide,” the July 25 Gazette investigation into the death of Deven Baab, a 14-year-old Medina middle school student who took his own life in November 2012.

Kujat said plans for next month’s summit include student focus groups, organized by the Public Service Institute of Lorain County Community College, to investigate the issues of depression in youths, Kujat said.

“It’s frustrating for us, because we want to do all we can to make sure kids aren’t hurting themselves,” he said.

All high school students in Medina County are eligible to apply and applications are due Jan. 24. Students can ask for an application at their school or request one by email from United Way of Medina County at kjones@unitedwaymedina.org.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.