Interview with Social Worker, Ms. Najera- Pollak

Interview with Social Worker, Ms. Najera- Pollak

On Friday, Mar. 11, the Natural Helpers Club held their “Light of Hope” event to create awareness regarding suicide prevention and honor those who have lost their lives as a result of mental health struggles.  At the event, members of the club used candles to symboloize and remember those who have committed suicide, while handing out pamphlets with information and other resources relating to suicide. Students, teachers, and administrators were also encouraged to sign their names on a banner in order to show support for suicide prevention.  The pamphlets handed out contained information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Family and Children’s Services, National Suicide Prevention Hotline, Centerstone, and The Trevor Project, as well as information on Schreiber’s mental health professionals.  The Natural Helpers Club hopes to hold more events like this in the future and is currently working on one for National Physician Suicide Prevention Day in affiliation with the Dr. Lorna Breen Hero’s Foundation.  The Natural Helpers Club organized this event and will continue to work towards reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness, while still supporting their fellow students in times of need. The Schreiber Times sat down with school social worker Ms.Najera-Pollak to discuss suicide prevention and mental health stigma. 


Why is it important for high schools to talk about suicide and suicide prevention?

“Suicide is a very complex mental health issue.  It is a public concern that affects all of American society, especially among teens in high school.  Research and data shows that suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents at this point.  For example, when we analyze the cause of death for the adult population, number one is a heart attack.  And then we look at adolescents, and suicide is number two.  That’s why it’s so significant.  There are numerous risk factors that influence the development of suicidal behavior among teens.  Therefore, the proper recognition of suicide warning signs is essential to assist adolescents.”


How does your role as a social worker make you knowledgeable about this topic?

“Social workers are mental health professionals.  Therefore, they are trained to assist students by doing mental health assessments and providing brief treatment interventions within the school setting.  Social workers are able to recognize symptoms and guide students and their parents to additional resources.  It is important to let all our students know that the mental health team is always available to provide support to help them avoid suffering from depression or trauma silently.” 


Are there any misconceptions about suicide that you see in teens? If so, what are they?

“Yes.  Suicidal behavior manifests in many ways; from having suicidal thoughts to making a plan and having the intention to carry on that plan.  These aspects of suicide behavior should be considered seriously and need to be evaluated by a mental health professional. Most students suffering from suicidal behavior don’t want to verbalize it.  Sometimes they decide to share their thoughts with a friend who isn’t prepared to assist them.  This results in prolonging their emotional struggle.  Therefore, it is best when students are connected with a mental health professional at the school who is able to assist them as soon as possible to minimize their challenges.”


Can you talk about the Lights of Hope event that took place on Friday, 3/11?

“This event was led by the Natural Helpers, and their goal is to increase mental health awareness around the school.  It is important that all students know that we are sensitive to the fact that they may be suffering from anxiety, mood disorders, or depression. If  symptoms from these conditions go untreated, they can lead to the development of suicidal behavior as a way to cope.  This event honored suicide prevention.  The mental health team at Schreiber has noticed that COVID has had a great impact on our students’ mental health.  So, we want all students to be more aware of mental health struggles and know how to utilize their resources if need be.  We had plastic candles on tables in the lobby that honored suicide victims, so everyone who walked through saw it.  The event was a big success and I must say a huge thank you to the Natural Helpers Club because they worked so hard and it wouldn’t have happened without them.” 


What are some resources at Schreiber that students can utilize?

“The best resources right now are the mental health team.  We have two social workers and two psychologists.  Their names and contact information is listed below.” 

School psychologists: Dr. Eric Clauss- (516)-767-5819 or [email protected] and Ms. Alyssa Czarnecki- (516)-767-5823 or [email protected]

Social workers: Mr. Jose Mejia- (516)-767-5983 or [email protected] and Ms. Adriana Najera- Pollak- (516)-767-5866 or [email protected].