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Group 'Speak Up' tries to combat teen suicide

Posted at 7:17 PM, Nov 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-27 21:11:11-05

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Overland Park is reeling after a 17-year-old girl took her own life Friday.

The high school student attended Blue Valley Northwest, and the district is providing counselors for anyone who may be affected.

One group, "Speak Up,” has spoken to Blue Valley and three other local districts about breaking the silence surrounding mental health issues.

“‘Speak Up’ was an outtake of us surviving our son's suicide," said Dr. Steven Arkin, who started the program with his wife, Dr. Karen Arkin, and Allie Doss.

The Arkins’ son Jason graduated from Blue Valley Northwest as well. He took his own life when he was at Northwestern in 2015.

"He had anxiety, depression, and perfectionism. He fought it for 9 years," said Steven Arkin.

This year Children's Mercy Hospital sent 19 social workers and an administrator to work in the district. Blue Valley has counselors at all its schools and offers this help on its website.

"The main thing is don't keep it inside. That could be disastrous," said Steven Arkin.

You can talk about it with a friend or parent or with groups like the Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

"There's lots of love out there for people to live for," said Arkin.

Locally, there are several suicide survivor support groups as well. One of them, SASS-MoKan, is headed up by Bonnie Swade.

Her son was in the armed forces and served in Bosnia but had a hard time finding himself when he got back to Kansas City. He was 31 when he took his own life.

"The traditions and things you were used to having in your family has all changed. It is a high-stress time for people," said Swade.

Swade and her husband Mickey are directors of the group and say these suggestions may help around the holidays:

1.) Write down your fears about the holidays so you can work through them.

2.) Plan ahead. Give yourself permission to only do the things you can.

3.) Don't be isolated and sink into depression.

4.) Break items down into a series of small events instead of an endless stream of things that can overwhelm you.

5.) Decide how to alter family traditions so they are do-able, or start over with your own traditions.  Children need you to continue traditions for a sense of security and "normalcy".

6.) Keep holiday planning and celebrations simple.  Don't push beyond your limits.

7.) Include your loved one in the day by sharing positive memories.  Talk about your feelings; it's ok to cry or laugh.

8.) Try a change in traditions like a trip everyone agrees to or an activity.

9.) You can help others most by taking care of you.  Do or buy something nice for yourself.  Be kind to you.

10.) Give of yourself this holiday season by visiting nursing homes or help in a food pantry.  Healing comes from doing for others.

11.) Prepare ahead how you will respond to cheerful greetings of the holiday season.  Things like "Thanks, happy holidays to you," or "I'm trying."

The CDC says 90 percent of suicides come from people suffering from mental illness. This is why Speak Up wants you to break the silence.

"The worst case scenario, you try to do it on your own and don't tell somebody. That isn't very easy at all," said Steven Arkin.

Speak Up is working to get Spanish programming into schools as well.


If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call them at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).