Guest Commentary

Group works to raise awareness to prevent KC area teen suicides

A SPEAK UP Walk will take place Sunday at Ironwoods Park in Leawood. By attending, people can learn how to start a conversation with a friend or family member about mental illness to prevent teen suicides. SPEAK UP stands for Suicide Prevention Education Awareness for Kids United as Partners.
A SPEAK UP Walk will take place Sunday at Ironwoods Park in Leawood. By attending, people can learn how to start a conversation with a friend or family member about mental illness to prevent teen suicides. SPEAK UP stands for Suicide Prevention Education Awareness for Kids United as Partners. MCT

In the summer of 2015, my daughter, Sara Renea “Bob” Prideaux, was 16 and preparing for her junior year at Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park.

Sara always challenged herself to be the best. She had a 4.7 grade point average, spoke multiple languages, loved to bake, enjoyed watching “Anime” and her favorite animal was a penguin.

She could light up the room with her smile and her personality, and was going to change the world with her wit and brains. Yet, Sara died on July 30, 2015, because of an undiagnosed mental illness.

She ended her own life because of unimaginable pain that was unseen and undetected by her family.

Two months earlier, Jason Arkin also lost his battle with mental illness, completing suicide at age 20 as he was finishing his third year of college at Northwestern University.

He won an Optimist Club essay competition and multiple awards on his Blue Valley Northwest High School debate team. At the time of his death, Jason had lived with depression for nine years with the help of medications, psychotherapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

It is from these tragic events that Karen Arkin, Jason’s mom, and I created SPEAK UP (Suicide Prevention Education Awareness for Kids United as Partners). We are two families united to break the silence and stigma of mental illness.

We know the effect suicide has on a community, and that impact is far greater than just one life lost. We want to bring hope and support to those suffering mental illness, suicidal ideation or to someone who is supporting a loved one.

We provide mental health education and awareness, helping to bridge the gaps in community, schools and parents. Working with the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition and Jewish Family Services, we encourage open conversations and educate people about mental illness signs and how to help.

I was one of those parents who thought that suicide could never happen to my child, but it can happen to any of us. Suicide is at an all-time high, the second leading cause of death among youths age 10 to 24.

One in five teens has a diagnosable mental illness. Making a difference starts with educating yourself about mental illness and knowing what to do if a loved one needs help.

That’s part of what we’ll be doing at the SPEAK UP Walk on Sunday at Ironwoods Park in Leawood. By attending, you will learn how to start a conversation with a friend or family member about mental illness.

You will also be able to learn about resources that are available in our community. Even if you can’t attend, you can learn more about mental illness at www.speakup.us and www.itsok.us. We also accept donations to help us bring mental health resources to local high schools.

We hope that you will join our fight and pledge to end the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. As Sara’s mother, I had no idea that she was struggling.

I didn’t have the chance to save Sara from ending her life. That’s why it’s so important that our community comes together in this effort.

If we do, maybe more teens like Sara will speak up before it’s too late.

Allie Doss of Belton is the mother of 16-year-old Sara Prideaux, who completed suicide. Doss is a business consultant and blogger who works with the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition on teen and young adult suicide prevention efforts.

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