Need help? September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and organizations like Speak Up are trying to make conversations about mental health and suicide more normal, now and throughout the year.
On Wednesday evening, two Blue Valley students were featured on a panel discussing teen suicide prevention for Leadership Overland Park at Shawnee Mission South High School.
Who they are: The students, Pleasant Ridge 8th grader Amanda Lewis and Blue Valley North junior Katherine Koplik, were there to discuss their own mental health struggles and different coping mechanisms.
- As a person who has struggled with her own mental health issues, and seen those around her do the same, Koplik said she became a mental health advocate for her school to help bring awareness to the topic.
- “I’ve come from a place where I was really, really struggling and needed help, and now it’s my passion to help other people feel better,” she said.
#GiveMe20: For Lewis, she said one of the best tools her school has provided her with is the #GiveMe20 program, which is based on the idea that suicide can often be a snap decision some teens makes.
- Sylvia and Nathan Harrell, who founded the Keep the Spark Alive Foundation after losing their son to suicide in 2017, partnered with family friend BJ Thomas Wilson, who also lost her daughter to suicide the same year, to create #GiveMe20.
- “From the time kids think about [committing suicide] to when they act upon it, it’s 20 minutes or less,” Sylvia Harrell said.
- To combat that statistic, the program has students create a box and fill it with 20 mementos that remind them of their favorite things and what they have to look forward to.
Lewis’ box: During the panel, Lewis shared her own #GiveMe20 box, which she created when Harrell and Wilson visited her school to have the eighth graders take part in the program.
- The outside of the box was decorated with stickers and a photo of her pet bunny, while the inside was filled with letters and trinkets that served as reminders for happy memories.
- “There are notes that they had us fill out for ourselves, with one of them being three people we would test or call if we’re going through a hard time,” Lewis said.
- Lewis even read a letter that her best friend had written to her to include in the box, which talked about how much Lewis is loved.
Key quote: “It’s about authentic human relationships,” Johnson County Mental Health director Tim DeWeese said. “And that, I think, is what’s so powerful about #GiveMe20… because what we’re doing is looking at how peers can help peers.”
Future plans: Since first introducing the program to a youth group in 2019, more than 7,000 boxes have been created by students across Johnson County.
- The program has now been given to all eight graders within Blue Valley and even some of the district’s high schoolers.
- Harrell said they have plans to keep expanding the program by introducing it into even more schools in the area.