I want to invite all of you to join us virtually for our annual fall event on October 20th from 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. We are honored to welcome Scarlett Lewis with a guest appearance from her son, JT Lewis, as she talks about losing her son, Jesse, in the Sandy Hook tragedy, and building on her grief to create and teach social emotional learning curriculum throughout the country. For more information on how to get registered visit our website here: https://www.thekimfoundation.org/annual-event/
As many of you know, September is Suicide Prevention Month and to recognize that, and draw attention to the increase in suicides we’ve seen this year in youth ages 19 and under, Gene Klein, the Executive Director of Project Harmony, and myself submitted this article to the Omaha World Herald.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and now more than ever it is important to shine a light on the stressors our youth are facing and the impact we are seeing locally. It is no surprise that the current pandemic continues to negatively impact our community in a number of ways, but one that hasn’t been talked about enough is the mental health and well-being of our youth.
The uncertainty of the current environment is challenging for adults to grasp; it is even more challenging for youth. Their learning environment has changed drastically, their interactions are different, their extracurricular activities may no longer be available, and an overlying unknown of the ever-changing landscape is weighing heavily on their minds. We, as a community, need to come together and serve as a support for the youth of the Omaha metro area.
Throughout the national media, it has been reported that suicide death rates are increasing due to the pandemic. While this may be true, locally we are seeing a fairly significant decrease in overall suicide deaths compared to where we were this time last year. However, our youth suicide deaths are three times higher. That is something none of us should ignore. One suicide death is too many, but losing three times the number of youth compared to those lost the previous year is unacceptable. We must all reach out to the youth of our community with positive, helpful messaging along with the services and connections they desperately need right now.
In most cases, suicide is preventable. Each of us can play a role in saving a life. We must know the warning signs and where to connect to resources.
Warning signs include: A change in pattern of behavior for two weeks or longer. Withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities. Hopelessness. Change in eating or sleeping patterns. Writing, talking or posting about death. Giving away prized possessions — just to name a few.
We must have the conversation about mental health and suicide and not shy away from it at the risk of losing friends or having people judge you. Talking about suicide does not put the idea in someone’s mind. More often than not, they are grateful someone cared enough to reach out.
About 20% of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood. Research also shows that 1 in 5 high school students have thought about suicide in the last year. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for those ages 10-34. These are not just numbers — these are the young people of our community and they need our help and support.
Here are three areas where increased awareness can lead to sustainable change.
- Mental health first aid. Like a traditional first aid class, Mental health first aid teaches participants how to identify when someone may be experiencing a mental health emergency and how to help that person. Classes (available through Nebraska’s Region 6 behavioral health services) include discussions on recognizing symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis and addiction, then determining the right way to assist. It’s a training everyone should have.
- Early access to mental health care. Project Harmony’s Connections program brings therapists, schools, students and parents together to provide accessible, preventative mental health care to Omaha-area children. Connections works directly with families as well as school and medical professionals to identify children in need of mental health support. Children are matched with community therapists who are trained in evidence-based practices.
- Community engagement. Suicide rates will decrease through greater community involvement.
In honor of Suicide Prevention Month, please take a moment to learn more about how you can help save a life. The community has launched a new suicide prevention public awareness campaign, More Tomorrows, that focuses on hope, help and healing.
Visit www.MoreTomorrowsNE.org to learn how you can make a lasting impact on the youth of our community.
If you, or someone you care about is struggling, call 800.273.8255 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
View the Omaha World Herald article here: https://omaha.com/opinion/columnists/midlands-voices-suicide-prevention-is-a-key-societal-need/article_591f85a2-b6cb-5c1e-9443-97f1e477c236.html
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.