MISSION, Kan. — A group of teenagers and adults hope they can prevent more suicides this school year through their Zero Reasons Why campaign.
Superintendents of and students in public school districts in Johnson County, Kansas, launched the suicide prevention movement the fall of 2018 in response to a rising number of suicides. This year, the county's mental health center is spearheading the project. Teens involved want to expand the concept to the rest of the Kansas City metro area.
Zero Reasons Why focuses on building community support, removing the stigma and committing to education. It's unique in that a council of teenagers come up with most of the concepts and share their stories.
"Being able to hear those stories from their perspective and also realizing that it comes from all varied walks of life, that just reinforces the notion no one is alone," said Tim DeWeese, director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center.
Last school year, students advocated for things such as mental health education alongside physical health courses, replacing school-wide assemblies on suicide prevention with intimate discussions, and teaching parents how to have conversations with their children about suicide.
"The bottom line is the more interaction you can have with your youngsters, the more conversations you can have, the better your relationship is going to be," DeWeese said. "What we know is that when kids have healthy adults in their lives, they are going to be healthier kids."
Will Gurley joined the teen council and said the campaign provides an open invitation for students to talk about suicide inside the school building.
"Conversation is the best thing that can happen because it starts them thinking, 'Maybe I can get help.' Then you see different ways of how to get help, then you actually get better. But that all has to come from starting to talk about it," the 16-year-old said.
Supporters will gather at Mill Creek Park in Kansas City, Missouri, Sunday, Sept. 29 from 1 p.m to 3 p.m for a rally and march in support of treating mental health the same as physical health.