September was a busy month for everyone in the suicide awareness and prevention field. This year, National Suicide Prevention Week (NSPW) took place September 10th through the 16th (1). Since 1975, NSPW has an been annual week-long campaign in the United States to inform and engage health professionals and the general public about suicide prevention and warning signs of suicide. By drawing attention to the problem of suicide, the campaign strives to reduce the stigma surrounding the topic, as well as encourage the pursuit of mental health assistance, support people who have attempted suicide, or have lost a loved one to suicide (2). Each year there are dozens of local events to educate and raise awareness around the topic.
In preparation for NSPW, The Kim Foundation joined suicide survivors and prevention advocates at the State Capital for the Governor’s Proclamation where September was declared Suicide Awareness Month in Nebraska. In Nebraska, we lose three times more people to suicide than homicide and we lose just as many people to car accidents as suicide each year. Bringing awareness to these facts is critical if we want to make a change in our state and save more lives.
On World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10th), The Kim Foundation partnered with Planet Sub to provide all patrons with a 13 Minutes resource card with every purchase. In return, Planet Sub graciously donated a portion of all purchases to the foundation to help support our ongoing prevention efforts. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) annual Out of the Darkness Walk also took place on World Suicide Prevention Day down at Lewis and Clark Landing. The event had music, balloon artists, food trucks, and an entire tent full of local resources. The Kim Foundation provided a booth and handed out hundreds of stress balls, fidget spinners, bracelets, phone lanyards, and resources. We shared our booth with Douglas County Sheriff’s Department where they gave away gun locks and gun safety materials. While the morning started off a bit wet, the clouds disappeared and the sun peaked out as soon as the walk began. It was overwhelming to see so many people who have been personally touched by suicide all in one place, supporting a single cause.
Throughout the month, the foundation kept busy providing suicide prevention trainings to several organizations, including local middle schools and high schools, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, the NAMI on Campus group at UNO, Linked In, Millard Public Schools staff, and a foster parent group. These presentations covered suicide risk factors, warning signs, protective factors, coping skills, building resiliency, and where to get help. We also talked about how to have a conversation with someone if they may be struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.
Our staff was also able to expand our own knowledge of childhood trauma and building resiliency in teens. Region 6 Behavioral Health brought in adverse childhood experience study (ACEs) creator, Dr. Vincent Felitti for a daylong work shop. ACEs was the study of more than 17,000 middle-class Americans in California that illustrated a link between adverse childhood experiences and negative adult physical and mental health outcomes. This connection to childhood trauma and negative health outcomes only continues to be reaffirmed in more recent studies (3). The next week, Region 6 brought in Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg who is a leading pediatrician specializing in Adolescent Medicine. During the two day conference entitled “Our Kids Are Not Broken,” Dr. Ginsburg talked about developing resiliency in young people. He talked about the seven C’s of resiliency: confidence, competence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control. He also explained that resiliency is a mindset. Overcoming adversity is something we must make a conscience decision to do when we face challenges.
On September 14th, The Kim Foundation teamed up with Papillion-LaVista CARES to provide an evening event for both parents and students. The event included resource booths and two separate suicide prevention talks. Each presentation was followed by a panel discussion with mental health professionals, law enforcement, and suicide loss survivors. I had the opportunity to speak with the youth group during the event and I was blown away with how much compassion these kids showed towards one another. Suicide and depression are not easy topics to discuss, but nearly every student in the room took the time to share his or her personal experience, ask a question, or express support for a friend or peer.
During the panel discussion, Mindy Eggert shared her son Cameron’s story. Cameron was only 20 years old when he took his own life in 2012. “Cameron never felt like he had a purpose in life and while he felt that way, it simply wasn’t true. He had a purpose. Everyone has a purpose, it just takes time to find out what that purpose is,” she said.
We talk a lot about searching for your passion during our presentations. We want to encourage kids to try new activities and learn about new things, in the hopes that they find something to spark their passion. We also want them to understand that they may not know what their purpose is till they are much older and that’s okay! Chaplain Jeff Kaiser with Sarpy County Sheriff’s Department echoed Mindy’s sentiment. “You are the only you in the world- you cannot be replaced. You were put here for a reason and while you may not know that reason yet, it’s worth finding out,” he said. “Life might be hard at times, but its worth it.”
While it was so wonderful to have an entire month dedicated to raising awareness about suicide prevention and education, we need to continue to bring suicide to the forefront. We must drag it out of the darkness and shed light on this important topic all year around; not just in September.
Jill Hamilton, Senior Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been a Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Speech Communication Minor from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and The Metro Area Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, is Chair of the Nebraska LOSS Teams Conference Planning Committee, and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.