By now almost everyone in our community is back to school, albeit for many, it looks different this year than in years’ past. School districts have been working tirelessly over the summer months to create and implement a style of learning that is most effective, but also safe for students as well as staff. COVID-19 has created barriers to so many parts of our lives, and sadly education was not immune. This has been such a challenging time for school administrators, families, and youth, but together I do believe our community is rallying around our young people and making sure this is as successful of a year as possible for all of them. We are fortunate to work with nearly every school district in our region, and we commend our great partners for the work they have done to ensure the health and well-being of students, staff, and our community.
The pandemic continues to wear on as the months go by, and most of us did not realize that we would be reaching September and still be significantly impacted when we closed our doors in March. The stress, anxiety, and isolation the pandemic has caused for so many on a variety of levels is unlike anything most of us in this generation have experienced. However, I have been encouraged by the way our community has rallied together to help one another, to provide hope to those who need lifted, and to prioritize positivity and creativity instead of “business as usual.” Together, the Omaha Metro area has excelled and together, we should all be proud.
We continue to hear about the depression and isolation the pandemic is causing, and that is very true in some instances. We need to make sure that we connect with loved ones, check in on a neighbor or co-worker, and support each other in times of need. We need to make sure to know the resources available in our community in case the time comes where we are concerned for ourselves or a loved one. That will always be true. Pandemic or no pandemic. Locally, I am extremely encouraged as our overall suicide deaths in our community are significantly down from where we were this time last year. There are likely many contributing factors to this, and certainly one suicide death is too many, but this is encouraging.
However, an area of extreme concern is our youth suicides are much higher than where we were last year. Again, there are likely many contributing factors to this, but it’s time our community rallies around our youth, realize we each play a role in saving lives from suicide, and carry forward a message of hope, help and healing. The uncertainty our youth are facing is unknown to them and can feel overwhelming. We need to make sure that we are providing a message of hope, teaching them healthy coping mechanisms to work through their anxiety, and ensuring them that they are never alone.
As we move toward September, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I encourage each of you to take some time to learn the warning signs, learn how you can play a role in prevention suicide, and empower yourself to be a light for others in their time of need.
If you or someone you care about is having thoughts of suicide, or you are concerned about someone and want to talk to a trained crisis counselor, please call the National Suicide Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 at any time. For more information on suicide prevention please visit www.13minutes.org.
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia Hebenstreit is the Executive Director of The Kim Foundation. She received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.