Byline: Teresa Stepzinski
ORANGE PARK | Children and teenagers who are bullied or depressed to the brink of suicide often exhibit warning signs, even if they don't want to talk about it.
When educators, parents and mental health and child psychology professionals recognize those signals, they can intervene before a young life is lost.
Experts brought that message to more than 300 participants attending the sixth annual SEDNET conference Friday.
Serving Clay, Duval and Nassau counties, SEDNET is the Multiagency Network for Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities. Each year its conference focuses on an area of concern regarding the lives of youth and the mental health profession.
This year's focus was youth suicide and bullying, and how to prevent it, said Kathy Lawrence, organization project manager and conference coordinator.
Bullying and teen suicide attempts appear to be rising in the region.
"In Duval County, one out of eight high school students made an attempt at suicide last year," said Lawrence, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Children are asking to be committed to mental health facilities, running out of school, not going to class to avoid bullying in the region.
Suicide attempts have included jumping out of moving cars or standing in the path of an oncoming train, Lawrence said.
The conference brought together mental health experts who shared their experiences, offered prevention strategies and fielded questions. It also honored an 18-year-old Clay County woman whose courage in managing her depression and other adversity has been an inspiration, conference officials said.
Samantha Conway helps others in part by sharing her story. SEDNET presented Conway with its inaugural "Above and Beyond Award."
Conway faces the possibility of a liver transplant as the result of a reaction to medication.
Despite her challenges, Conway continued her education and earned her General Educational Development diploma and plans to attend Florida State College at Jacksonville in May.
After the presentation, Conway talked about her depression. She was diagnosed at 14. Facing it, she drew strength from her mother, Tammy Conway, whose love and support never wavered even in the worst of times. Her mother and other family members were in the audience.
Samantha Conway said she is "doing great" now and managing her depression.
When asked what advice she has for other teens dealing with depression, she said: "Find something to work toward. …