The Jed FoundationMeet the Founders, Phil and Donna Satow
We lost our third and youngest child, Jed, to suicide in 1998. Jed was engaging, smart and gifted with an incredible sense of humor. He was well-liked by his many friends at home and at his university. He struggled with a learning disability and some impulsivity, but none of us who loved him understood that he was at risk for suicide.
When we met with the president of his university after Jed’s death, he asked us: “What would you have me do? I have many thousands of students on campus.” We created The Jed Foundation to answer that question. In 1998, there was little prevention infrastructure on college campuses throughout the U.S. to support the emotional well-being of students. No one was even talking about it. With the help of the best minds in public health, education, psychiatry and psychology we created a safety net based on a proven comprehensive approach to protect mental health and prevent suicide.
“Losing a child to suicide leaves a family so bereft that it is hard to know where to go. But as one moves forward, the pain can fuel a passion that begins to heal.”
The first one may be the most obvious: Too many parents see the behavior of their teens as typical rather than troubled. They resist the thought that their child may have a behavioral or mental health issue requiring mental health support. The reality is that a third of teens and young adults experience mental health, behavioral or emotional health issues. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 10- to 34-year-olds. We can look away out of fear when we see these statistics, or we can act on them and get young adults the support and treatment they need.
Another misconception is that talking about suicide may somehow introduce the idea to another person. Research tells us the exact opposite—that asking someone if they are thinking about suicide can bring them relief because someone finally recognizes how much they are hurting. It’s one of the most powerful things we can do as individuals to prevent suicide. If you’re worried about someone in your life, ask them. If you’re worried about yourself, tell someone.
How have the needs that JED addresses changed through the years?
Over the past two decades and particularly since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, there has been a growing community understanding that we need a more comprehensive approach to mental health, marked by prevention activities that are inclusive of the needs of marginalized communities, including BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth. JED has also directed attention and resources to address the growing problem of substance misuse. Developing from an advisory organization in our early years, JED now provides direct support to high schools, colleges and universities to help develop and implement customized strategic plans to address the mental health needs of their students.
One of the greatest challenges coming out of the pandemic is the effect of isolation on all of us, especially teens and young adults who lost school communities and support systems critical to their development. It’s really important to make sure the teens in your life feel supported and connected to something bigger than themselves—their family, school and community. That is one of the most effective ways to create and protect emotional well-being.
As parents, we have so many things we can worry about, but I would start with having really honest conversations with your teen or young adult about how they are doing, [asking] if they feel they have a support system they can rely on, and what they need to feel connected, seen and supported. Showing you care and are willing to have hard conversations in and of itself is supporting your child’s mental health.
Learn about the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and self-injury and the warning signs of suicide, and talk to your children—even if you’re not worried. These conversations may feel awkward at first, but they get easier over time and bring you and your children closer. You can help JED make mental health an everyday conversation. Start with your family.
What has been your most memorable moment with JED?
The many thank-you's and signs of appreciation expressed to us over the years by those who have been supported by JED, successfully sought help for their child, or noted positive behavioral change in a loved one are quite memorable. It’s also always reassuring when clinicians outside the foundation compliment our programs, since it is essential that our programs be the best they can be.
We are deeply gratified by all of JED’s accomplishments. Losing a child to suicide leaves a family so bereft that it is hard to know where to go. But as one moves forward, the pain can fuel a passion that begins to heal. This work will not bring our Jed back, but our hope is that through the efforts of the wonderful team working with us, many others are helped.