As Johnson County comes to terms with a recent wave of youth suicides, a local coalition is redoubling efforts in prevention, intervention and awareness.
The Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition maintains community partnerships with local school districts, faith-based organizations, hospitals and law enforcement agencies. Since last year, they’ve distributed 3,000 gun locks and continued training efforts to help people recognize when someone is at risk of suicide.
The coalition on Friday morning gathered for its annual meeting to discuss these programs and collaborative efforts undertaken the past 12 months, and also to highlight new initiatives for the coming year.
All of these efforts underscore the need to “grow the conversation” about suicide and provide care and resources in Johnson County, leaders said.
Kevin McGuire, who will take over as chair of the coalition in 2019, said he wanted to stress that suicide is still an epidemic, countywide, statewide and nationwide. In fact, the suicide prevention coalition exists because the data has shown, since 2012, “an uptick in the trend year to year for those who are losing their lives to suicide.”
“Ever since, we’ve been meeting and strategically trying to find what we need to do locally in our community to help stop this epidemic,” McGuire said.
Local partnerships, especially with school districts, are integral to the coalition’s efforts. For example, the coalition is working with the Shawnee Mission School District — which has its own awareness programming — during intervention phases. It also helped the Olathe School District conduct an event called “Signs of Suicide” to reach youth through education and awareness before suicide became a “crisis point.”
“That’s really what prevention is all about, is helping to educate and encourage people to talk before it gets to the point of a crisis situation,” McGuire said. “If we can do more of the prevention work, we’re hoping to stop more of the intervention and definitely, a lot of the postvention, which is after death or harm happens.”
Joe Kordalski, chair of the Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition, said the “upward tick” speaks for itself.
“I think the slides and the data show that there’s a lot of work to be done,” Kordalski said, “and it’s not a plug-and-play one-size-fits-all. As long as we can continue to communicate that to our community, then we can continue to grow the conversation and build partnerships and extend our reach.”
In the coming year, the Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition is planning to target messaging toward groups of people who may be withdrawn or isolated and who do not have access to resources that can help them.
For instance, some populations are more at risk of suicide than others, especially adolescents ages 10 to 14 and men ages 41 to 60, Kordalski said. As such, the coalition is continuing to grow efforts to increase intervention, distribute gun locks, educate on how to look for signs that someone is at risk of suicide and provide a smooth transition for someone to receive care and maintain stability.
Kordalski, a school social worker for the De Soto school district, said he sees the need to remove the stigma around suicide.
“On a weekly basis am I having conversations with students about either their need or the need that they see in their peers or the experiences that have impacted them personally through a loss of a family member,” Kordalski said. “We want to be a catalyst for increasing the dialogue, and it takes events like this to make that happen.”