Local Students Create Inspirational Awareness Campaign
Last spring, Sherrie Balmer thought she had a great idea. Marillac, a psychiatric residential treatment facility in Overland Park, received a $2,000 grant from The Kansas Suicide Prevention Center to develop a program to reach young people. The concept was to promote awareness about suicide, to provide support for people struggling with suicidal thoughts and tools for those whose friends have thoughts of suicide.
As the director of communications and marketing for Marillac, Balmer planned to use the grant money to create a video, and she wanted to confirm that her perception for the message was relevant to teenagers. She approached the already established Suicide Awareness group at Saint Thomas Aquinas in Overland Park, and spoke to students. While Balmer’s vision was the start, the students soon schooled her on relating the message to teens. Balmer admits with a laugh, “They had a much better idea!”
Throughout late spring and summer, the committed students worked together, researching, writing and producing a video that far exceeded her initial idea. “It was much, much more than I ever dreamed,” Balmer says. “It’s simple, bold and powerful. It not only encourages kids who are struggling to reach out for help, but it also empowers their friends to directly ask a tough question: ‘Are you going to kill yourself?'”
There is an argument that mentioning suicide to someone who is having mental health difficulties may plant the idea. Evidence is clear that this is not the case, and young people confide in their peers before they would ever consider turning to an adult. Part of the lesson is to educate teens on warning signs and to arm them with strategies to discern a next course of action. They learn that any mention of self harm should be taken seriously, even if it’s followed with, “Just kidding.” If kids are in tune to potential red flags, they are more likely to take action. They may talk to a school counselor, alert a parent of the person in distress or their own parents for guidance, or contact a mental health facility.
In Kansas, anyone over 14 can contact a mental health facility directly and self-admit. Marillac’s 32-bed residential facility treats ages 12-18. Lengths of stay vary and are unique to each patient, usually 30-45 days. There is also a 52-bed hospital on the campus for patients aged 4-18. Upon arrival, patients are admitted and risk level is assessed. Patients are treated by nurses, therapists, psychologists, and family visits and treatment plans are quickly established.
Marillac has formed partnerships throughout Kansas City. Students from Olathe South developed an “I Choose to Live” pledge campaign prior to their partnership with Marillac. Shawnee Mission South is currently working on a project to support the #NotEvenOne initiative. Balmer reached out to Mix 93.3, who along with several other radio stations ran ads last summer. Fox 4 News has supported the program as well, interviewing the students who created the video and contributing their own station video on the subject. In August, the Kansas City T-Bones debuted the students’ video on the stadium’s jumbo screen.
Balmer says this campaign is designed to grow and to be far reaching. New facets emerge constantly. In partnership with the Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition, using the same script that the high school students wrote, a video targeting the adult population was created. Balmer wants to reach as many people and schools as possible, starting in our own backyard. The hope is to see it grow and spread into other communities.
Since the tech savvy students created the video themselves, cost was minimal. Some grant funds were used for Suicide Awareness materials, but $1,000 of the grant was re-gifted from Marillac to Aquinas for future suicide awareness program activities.
Stigma surrounding mental illness is slowly eroding. The #NotEvenOne campaign hopes to overcome that remaining stigma, because even one life lost is one too many.