Last week I was fortunate enough to take a “bucket list” trip with my family to San Francisco, CA. I had never been to California and it was a wonderful experience that I know we will treasure forever. While the memories mainly center on the experiences we had together, I also found this trip incredibly interesting given my work here at the foundation. So much of what we do centers on suicide prevention, as well as some of our postvention efforts. However, a large part of what we do also centers on general mental health awareness, acceptance, and breaking down the stigma that for far too long has existed around mental health.
I couldn’t help but notice the public attention given to suicide prevention in the areas we visited. We connected through Los Angeles. LAX itself is somewhere I am ok with never returning to, but the moment I got off of the tram to connect to the next terminal, an electronic banner came up focusing on suicide prevention with a hopeful message and the suicide lifeline. It was bright yellow with some purple and white accents and was much more welcoming and hopeful than what it could have been. From there, I ventured on to our gate, and again, I saw an electronic poster of a different size, but same bright colors and hopeful messaging. All throughout their airport was mainstream advertising focused on suicide prevention. To which I immediately thought, “Why can’t we do that?!” I don’t know how we go about that at Eppley Airfield, but I am determined to find out!
Then in San Francisco, our first stop was the beach near our hotel that looked out to the Golden Gate Bridge. I couldn’t help but think of the numerous stories I’ve heard about the tie between that bridge and suicide deaths and attempts. From the powerful story of survival by Kevin Hines, to the stories of lives saved by Sgt. Kevin Briggs at our luncheon one year, to the public debate about whether a net on such a historical and national landmark was acceptable. Those stories are just the beginning, and don’t start to touch the hundreds and thousands of lives that have been impacted by that bridge and suicide. It was definitely a moving experience I will keep with me for years to come.
One day we rented bikes and rode across the bridge into Sausalito. I took some time on the bridge noticing the signs and crisis phones. To be honest at first I was somewhat surprised by what I found. Given the number of deaths from the bridge and the public attention to suicide in other parts I had seen, I thought there would be more direct attention to suicide prevention via signs or resources. But there was a lot of construction and maintenance going on, and then I noticed the signs and crisis phones that were available along the bridge in a variety of places. There was also a texting option if either you or someone you witnessed was in crisis on the bridge. From my best estimation, the construction was for the net that is being placed along the bridge. While the net wasn’t up yet, I can’t imagine it is going to take away from the beauty that the bridge embodies. I took many moments just standing on the bridge looking out. The scene was true beauty with the mountains and hills to one side and the pounding waves of the ocean below. There were sea lions swimming and birds flocking all around. Despite hundreds of cars rushing by, it was truly an aura of peace that came that I will never forget. It pains me to know that others are in such emotional turmoil and pain that when they go to that very spot, they are unable to see the beauty and feel that same peace.
My hope is that someday very soon, no matter whether we’re in Nebraska or California, the same level of attention on saving lives and instilling hope will be carried through our communities. We won’t worry about placing signs or nets on tourist attractions. We will do all that we can to save the lives of those in need. The stigma that has existed, which creates a veil of silence and hinders people from reaching out, will be gone. Someone in crisis and extreme pain will have the necessary resources to reach and maintain recovery. They will get to that very spot on the bridge to experience the beauty and peace others see and feel. I do have faith that we will get there as a community and society, but believe it will take everyone playing a part and embracing that together, we can all make a difference and save a life.
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 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.