New message takes aim at teen suicides: You Be You

The pain is all the same.

Karen Arkin knew her perfectionist son was in a battle with depression, and they showered him with help and counseling in vain before Jason Arkin killed himself at the age of 20.

Allie Doss knew nothing of her daughter’s secret pain before Sara Prideaux killed herself at 16.

A pilot Kansas City-area campaign against teen suicide will enlist teens in 14 high schools and middle schools this fall to embolden what both parents know has been a tragically difficult mission.

The campaign — You Be You — will craft teen-inspired, creative ways to help students love themselves as they are.

“You can’t understand the mind,” said Arkin, who joined Doss in starting the suicide-prevention organization Speak Up, which is supporting the new effort.

“You have to treat it aggressively,” she said.

The Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition is launching the You Be You campaign, using the donated creative thinking of Bernstein-Rein to find unorthodox ways to get teens’ attention.

There will be posters and T-shirts, but also startling installations, such as an apparently cracked bathroom mirror at the end of a row of sinks, with a printed message: “This is broken. You aren’t.”

“Teens are a tough audience to crack,” said Bernstein-Rein’s Mark Miller. “They have their own culture, their own way of speaking, their own technology. … We need to understand what’s going on in schools.”

The advertising agency had some of its interns hold brainstorming sessions with students to help craft an approach, Miller said.

They talked about the pressure on teenagers today, he said, coming from others, from social media and themselves.

Students in the schools will help come up with memorable and distinctive ways to embed the message on their campuses, Miller said.

“I hope we can rock the stigma,” Doss said, “…and take ownership of our mental health.”

The schools piloting the program in Blue Springs include Blue Springs, Blue Springs South and Valley View high schools; Brittany Hill, Paul Kinder, Moreland Ridge and Delta Woods middle schools; and the Freshman Center.

In Johnson County, participating schools include Blue Valley West High School, Blue Valley Northwest High School and Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. Kansas City charter school University Academy will also pilot the program.

The creative campaign hopes to sustain the other efforts already made in schools, said Don Goldman of Jewish Family Services, which established the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition.

Too often, Goldman said, important anti-suicide efforts that send inspirational speakers to schools or offer training on warning signs for suicide seem like fleeting “one-shot” experiences. The You Be You campaign, he said, with its yearlong presence, will make all of that work more lasting.