About a month after two Lee’s Summit North High School students took their own lives, around 100 people gathered inside city council chambers at City Hall on Nov. 1 to listen to local experts and ask questions about suicide prevention.
The event, organized by Lee’s Summit CARES, brought in seven panelists — Dr. Steven Arkin and Dr. Karen Arkin of the Saint Luke’s Health System; Marsha Palmer-Thelwell of ReDiscover; Dr. Danielle Leivian of the Lee’s Summit Physicians Group; Lee’s Summit Police Chief Travis Forbes; Katie Collier, associate superintendent of instruction and leadership at the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District; and Terry Trafton of CommCare Inc. The discussion was moderated by Kerri Gray, a family therapist with ReDiscover.
Lee’s Summit CARES Director Rachel Nelson-Segobia said the nonprofit organized the discussion to help enact change within the community. The event focused the discussion on teen suicide and mental health.
“Firstly, we’re here to provide some education and answers to the parents and the community members who reached out to Lee’s Summit CARES for guidance after we lost two of our young people to suicide earlier this fall,” Nelson-Segobia said. “Secondly, we’re here to continue a large, ongoing conversation to reduce the stigma around mental health and suicide.”
Panelists took turns answering questions about risk factors for suicide, ideas for parents to help start a conversation with their child on mental illness and suicide, how to reduce the stigma of mental illness, and ways the community should respond to suicide.
The Arkins, two doctors who work in neurology, shared during the panel that their 20-year-old son died by suicide two years ago. To other parents, the couple had this to say — take warning signs seriously and listen.
Experts at the panel said self-injury and symptoms of depression or anxiety — including withdrawal from friends and family, drastic changes in diet, failing grades, substance abuse, and reckless behavior — are risk factors for teen suicide.
“Listen to what your children are saying, but also watch their behavior,” Steven Arkin said. “People who say that they are a burden to other people are being serious, and people who say they are thinking about suicide, they are being serious.”
Some of the most important steps experts say we should take to prevent this public health issue is to educate ourselves about mental illness, ask teens open-ended questions about what they think of suicide and mental health, listen and communicate respectfully, and start a discussion with teens about suicide when its brought up in the news or on television, such as “13 Reasons Why.”
Seek professional help in a time of crisis, experts added.
Trafton, of CommCare Inc., said the community should help children and teens build strong support systems and encourage youth to understand that it’s OK to ask for help.
“You build those networks,” Trafton said. “Who is that one person you can call and talk to? It doesn’t have to be your parent. It can be any adult in your life that you feel comfortable talking about that with.”
Organizers of the Nov. 1 panel said this won’t be the last conversation they have about suicide and mental health.
Lee’s Summit CARES said it will have a meeting Nov. 14 on preventing risky behaviors from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the Lee’s Summit Police Department. It also announced a youth mental health first aid training from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 27 at ReDiscover, 1595 N.E. Rice Road in Lee’s Summit.
For more information about future events, contact Lee’s Summit CARES at LSCares@ReDiscovermh.org.
If you missed the event Nov. 1, a video of the panel discussion and question-and-answer session is expected to be made available on the City of Lee’s Summit website.