Driving to work last Wednesday I heard some dialogue between the hosts on the 96.1 radio show (syndicated from New York) regarding the positive things coming out of the tragic situation in Florida. They put it in a way so many of us can understand, “The sun is finally coming out after several very dark days.” Our nation has once again experienced a horrific tragedy that took place where our children should be safe; where they should be able to focus on learning, growing, and engaging in their development – not spending their day in fear. I am holding on to my idealism and believing that because of the courage, bravery, and strength these survivors have shown the last couple of weeks, our nation will finally take heed of the significant issues we face and take action toward improving the lives of Americans, not only in schools, but everywhere.
We as a foundation are not here to take a stand on the Second Amendment, as that is outside of our mission. But from someone who has personal experience with the negative impact of gun violence, I personally believe there is much work to be done in this area. We as the foundation are here, however, to strongly praise the youth and families who have found the strength and courage to take their traumatic experience and push for change for others. That change will hopefully encompass additional funding for mental healthcare, innovative solutions for increasing access, and shift our society’s acceptance of mental health conditions to be viewed in line with all other medical conditions. It is far past time that these changes are made, and it breaks my heart to know that we had to lose the lives of more of our youth for this change to be taken seriously. I hope their plea for change will bring about just that…change. I applaud them for their bravery and their steadfast dedication to saving others, and I hope they inspire many others to follow in their footsteps.
Each of us has a voice and these youth are shining examples of how to use ours for good. Each of us who have lived with either ourselves or family members experiencing a mental health condition has a story. Perhaps by telling our story we can encourage others to tell theirs who in turn may inspire someone else to tell theirs. Through a ripple effect we could change the conversation on mental illness to where it no longer is viewed with stigma or negativity, but rather as a diagnosis in need of care, and more importantly, a person in need of support and acceptance. We as a society need to get to the point where someone who is need of mental healthcare doesn’t hesitate for one second to reach out and get it so that they can live as healthy and whole as they deserve.
I call on our federal delegation, our state Senators, and Governor Ricketts to stop cutting funding for mental healthcare, as that in turn decreases available services. Stop considering mental healthcare as “optional services” (under Medicaid or any other funding structure), as it is not optional just as chemotherapy, heart medicine, and insulin are not optional. Stop “looking” at what we can do; start moving forward in action. Yes, a thoughtful approach needs to be implemented, but solutions have been thought of and considered for far too long. It’s high time we start implementing them to better the lives of the citizens you represent.
With all of this being said, I do want to caution people from using this latest tragedy as a way to further the stigma around those living with a mental health condition. Just because someone is living with a mental illness does not mean that they are going to act out violently or against others. Please remember that. And please encourage others to do the same. This is our opportunity for responsible dialogue, needed change, and increase in access to care. My hope is that these dark days in our country become far fewer, or even better, nonexistent, where more “sun” can shine through and youth can continue taking leadership and advocate for what they believe in, and those living with a mental illness can get the help that they need!
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation, https://www.thekimfoundation.org/
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.