Last month I mentioned that The Kim Foundation was moving forwarded in 2015 with a renewed focus on suicide prevention. As many of you know, suicide remains a public health crisis in our country. In 2012, there were 40,600 reported suicides in America. (https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures). That equates to someone dying by suicide every 12.9 minutes. That is at least one in the time it will take you to read this newsletter. And it is far too many. Last April I attended a presentation by Dr. Thomas Insel, the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, and he showed a graph that illustrated the unfortunate lack of change in suicide rates over the last few decades compared to improved rates of AIDS, various cancers, and heart disease over the same time frame. How can that be? We continue to have the conversation around suicide prevention, but we aren’t bending the curve or having an impact on the total numbers. We have to move from just having the conversation to taking action.
Here in Nebraska our largest two cities, Omaha and Lincoln, have seen high rates of suicides. Lincoln just closed the year (2014) with the highest number of completed suicides it has ever seen with 44. While we haven’t received updated numbers from Omaha recently, we have heard of a number of suicides in the city that lead us to believe the numbers remain quite high for our community as well. I want to commend the city of Lincoln, the school district, and the local community for their commitment to making sure 2015 doesn’t see as many suicides as 2014. As a community they have decided enough is enough. The Kim Foundation was a part of a group that hosted a community-wide event, It’s OK to Ask for Help, at Sheridan Lutheran Church on January 14th that was attended by more than 600 people all with the same goal, to raise awareness about suicide. The Yellow Ribbon program (http://yellowribbon.org/) was introduced to both youth and parents in separate groups, and a panel discussion was held with suicide survivors and clinicians. I moderated the youth panel and was moved by the number of youth who came up and asked questions about how to handle situations they were facing that involve suicide. These are real problems they are facing, but through this event we were able to provide them with an open platform to discuss any issues they felt were important. It took Lincoln deciding as a community that enough was enough to make this event such a success, and we are hoping that we can have something similar here in Omaha in the coming months. For further coverage on the event, watch the clip here: http://www.1011now.com/home/headlines/An-Estimated-600-People-Gather-in-Lincoln-to-Talk-Suicide-Prevention-288637251.html.
Another way we are working to raise awareness and contribute to the suicide prevention efforts of the state is through helping Jolene Palmer and the Nebraska Department of Education with the planning and implementation of LB923. I want to offer a personal note of congratulations to Jolene as she has stepped into this role and provided incredible leadership and vision for a five-year plan of online suicide trainings for teachers and other relevant school officials. As the LB923 materials note, the intent of the bill was to equip school personnel with information that could save a life of a student; recognizing signs and symptoms of suicidal behaviors and methods of responding to students in crisis. This is a major step for our state to take and we appreciate Senator McGill and everyone else who played a key role in making this legislation reality.
Lastly, we are working to develop a Metro Area Local Outreach for Suicide Survivors (LOSS) Team. These teams currently exist in Lincoln, Kearney, and Norfolk, but as part of a five-year federal grant the state has received, the goal is to have at least one LOSS Team in every behavioral health region in Nebraska. A LOSS Team is comprised of suicide survivors and clinicians who help families after a suicide has occurred. They prove as a vital resource for families as they work to cope with the loss of a loved one by suicide. We are excited to lead this initiative for the metro area and will be having a community planning meeting on Saturday, February 21st for those interested in becoming a member of the LOSS Team. For more information on the LOSS Team or the community meeting please reach out to The Kim Foundation at 402.891.6911.
The goal of The Kim Foundation is to keep the conversation going on suicide prevention, and lead the way in taking action, so that the curve begins to bend in this tragic health problem that we face as a community. One suicide is too many. By pulling together to raise awareness, increase knowledge and education, and intervene early in connecting individuals and families with resources prior to a crisis, we can start making a difference in the number of suicides impacting the youth and adults in our community.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia 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 for three years, 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 as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the executive committee of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, RESPECT Advisory Committee, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition and the Adolescent Mental Health Coalition. She also serves on the Women’s Fund Circles Board.