WHS to put in the midst of new outreach program

The Washington Health System Teen Outreach program has launched a new support group called “Road to Mental Health Education.”

“I started the outreach program in 1988,” Director of Teen Outreach, Dr. Mary Podgurski said. “I started working with young individuals in the 70’s, so we have a lot of history of teen programming.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], in 2022, 49,449 Americans died by suicide. 

Waynesburg University IT Helpdesk Analyst, Allen Miller spoke on a personal level of the importance of having a program like this in place.

“It brings you together with others who understand and know how and what you feel,” Miller said. “One of the worst things about this experience was that feeling of isolation, being alone and no one being able to understand.”

Miller himself is a suicide attempt survivor, and in Sept. of 2020, he lost his 18-year-old son Nyjel to suicide.

“When I was in college I attempted and failed,” Miller said. “When I lost Nyjel I felt like I failed my son in every way possible. I felt so much remorse because I had failed him as a father, and I felt I no longer belonged.”

This new program by Washington Health System Teen Outreach will feature a five-pronged approach to educate and raise awareness on teen mental health and prevent youth suicides.

“I wasn’t looking to start a new program,” Podgurski said. “The community has had a number of suicides in the last couple of years, and so I felt it was important to do something.”

The first part of the program features a parent group, it is a private group that Podgurski posts about three articles a week for people to read.

“We have close to 400 people in the group right now,” Podgurski said. “We started March 1, so that is quite good.”

The second prong is professional in-services provided for families, parents and staff.

“The last one I did was a week or two ago at McGuffey [high school],” Podgurski said. “An evening on bullying and suicide prevention.”

The third prong offered for this program is the teen mental advocacy group. Consisting of 20 young people, they all give advice on what teens need.

The fourth part is currently in progress as Podgurski trains her entire staff on suicide prevention. 

“We can be more aware of it in schools and when we work in schools,” Podgurski said.

The fifth and final part of the program is the addition of a team grief and loss discussion group.

“I think this is probably the best one,” Podgurski said. “It was very powerful that young people can come and comfort each other and be supportive of each other.”

Miller gave his perspective as a non-mental health professional and the message he has given to athletes on Waynesburg University’s campus.

“You Matter,” Miller said. “For everyone that I talk to, there is someone in their life that loves them as much as I loved my son.”

Podgurski has been in the mental health industry for over 50 years, and she wants to ensure that people know this program is a safe environment to share their stories of loss.

“People can always reach out to me individually, I’ve never had a problem with that,” Podgurski said. “I made a commitment to all young people no matter who they are.”

If anyone is dealing with loss, Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski can be reached at 412-877-4906, or by email at podmj@healthyteens.com
“There may be a time you feel your life may not be important to you, please hold on because your life is important to someone else,” Miller said. “Find help and make it through because you matter, no matter what.