Announcer: [00:01] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything, Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed: [00:14] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go where we're talking about everything Johnson County. Today's episode is focusing on a very serious topic that affects just about everyone in our County in one way or another. We're talking about suicide prevention. I'm joined today by Renee Van Meter, team leader with Johnson County Mental Health and also Rory Swenson. a Blue Valley North High School student who's also the executive board member of Zero Reasons Why, that's an important campaign that's fairly new to our area. So thank you both for joining us today.
Renee Van Meter: [00:46] Thanks for having us.
Rory Swenson: [00:47] Thank you.
Theresa Freed: [00:47] All right. Just to start off with it feels like we are hearing a lot about suicide recently in the news and so can you talk a little bit about that?
Renee Van Meter: [00:56] Yeah, absolutely. You're right. The fact of the matter is we are hearing more about it and we are actually hearing about more completions, suicide completions. I, I unfortunately with the rise in completions, right, that's never news that I like talking about or like sharing, but I had really glad to be a part of the voice that is also rising to the occasion of sharing the awareness and the prevention.
Theresa Freed: [01:24] Right. And that's trickling down to schools. Right. We're seeing more discussion about that and that's, that's important. Rory, can you talk about what are some of the efforts that we're seeing, especially as they relate to this, this new campaign and kind of tell us what that campaign is?
Rory Swenson: [01:39] Yeah, for sure. So actually as you saw in large media, 13 reasons why it was a huge Netflix show that came out, all the teens saw it and was talking about it. So that's where the names are reasons why it came from. And so Zero Reasons Why is an organization created by the superintendents of the Johnson County school districts to come together and combat suicide in the school districts. Mainly teen suicide. And so the way they've been doing this is opposite of how it's been normally done. They decided that addressing it, the way that's normally happening is clearly not working. Cause there's been a, as we've talked about, an increase in suicides. So instead they decided to put the students in charge and put the students on, on top. And then the superintendents are the ones listening and trying to see how they can adapt to the students cause it's changing times and there's a lot more factors going into it than ever before. So one of the main organizations and initiatives that's happening right now is the Zero Reasons Why campaign rallies. And so we're trying to gather students together that are largely invested in this topic or have a personal connection to it so that they can share their own stories and that they can feel like they're connected to a community as strong. It's important to develop a strong peer support system and connecting with other students who had similar issues that you or are facing the same problems can create a lot stronger of a support system for you.
Theresa Freed: [02:56] All right. And Rory, I imagine a lot of people feel sort of a sense of isolation, if they have these strong feelings and they don't know what to do with them, but it's important that they know that other people are probably having the same feelings. Right?
Rory Swenson: [03:07] Right. So one of the main things we focus on is saying that every single team in the school is definitely having these issues cause we're all having this homework and we're all having these social pressures from social media and the likes. So it's not like this is something that only one or two kids are facing. If you have a kid, they're probably struggling with this a little bit at least. And it's important because that kind of brings us together. This isn't just a niche community issue. This is an issue for every single person because parents feel the same way. You know, parents can get stressed out too with the work. This is something that we should all unilaterally work together to solve.
Theresa Freed: [03:41] All right. And when you mentioned parents it's probably very challenging for them to see their children struggling and not know what to do about that. So what are the resources that are available to them and what should they look for?
Renee Van Meter: [03:54] Absolutely. I want to just empower and encourage every parent first and foremost to see themselves as a resource. They are a resource to their child and talking right via listening, looking and, and talking to them is such a powerful resource. You are those eyes, you've had your eyes on them for years and years and years. And so if you, you notice something that's, that's a little bit off or a lot of it off to use those words and I man be clunky if you need to. It's okay. We encourage parents to you know, be as awkward, awkward as you need to, but get those words out, asking those direct questions are really important. So you, you, first of all, parents are a resource. Of course the mental health center can be a resource. You are more than welcome, first of all, to call our crisis line. If there's a crisis and you need something, 913-268-0156 please call. We want to walk you through something or give you some ideas if you feel that a family member or youth is at risk or yourself.
Theresa Freed: [05:00] When you say at risk, what does that mean?
Renee Van Meter: [05:02] What it means to me as a mental health professional is something is out of the ordinary. Something doesn't look right, feel right sound right. When it comes to specifically suicide, there is this very I, I would say odd phenomenon that we want to share the message. Just like Rory talked about this Zero Reasons Why campaign, the connections. He says that word, I love it. I'm just like, he brings such light to the connection piece because we want to share that no one is ever alone. Period. That's the end of the statement. But on the other side of that, there is utter loneliness in our youth. There is loneliness on the other side of attempted and completed suicides. So we have to recognize those things. That's really difficult. And that's where the parents and can come in and going, wow, when you notice something going on in your kiddo, ask the questions, reach out for support. But then also ask the question directly. I want to dispel a large myth asking the direct question about are you thinking of suicide? Does not implant an idea at all? In fact, it normalizes it. It goes, Whoa, you have the courage to ask me if I was having thoughts of suicide, maybe I can tell you. Okay. And if you give an affirmative, a positive response, yes I am having thoughts, ask, explored, hear the story, stick with it. It might take some time. So devote that, commit that, but then also ask some follow-up questions. I see thoughts or thoughts? I have thoughts about a lot of things. It doesn't mean I'm at, I've, I thought this morning I really don't want to go to work. Well I'm here. Hey, my actions were different. So I always ask, I always tell parents and kids to think about a couple of different things. Thoughts versus intentions. Do I have maybe a plan? And if I've got a plan, do I have those items that would help me be successful in suicide completion? And then again, my intent of do I have some sort of intention on establishing getting those means and acting on it.
Theresa Freed: [07:12] Okay. And so those conversations could probably be a little intimidating for parents. And if you get an answer, yes, I'm thinking about it. I mean, what do you do with that information?
Renee Van Meter: [07:21] Yeah. I would call the crisis line if you're unaware of any other resource at that time. But because the one thing that we want everyone to feel, whether it's the youth in that conversation or the parent is feeling safe, right? There are facilities around our County, around our greater Metro area that youth can seek out with their parents. Right? Inpatient psychiatric treatment. That's what they're there for. Have the conversation our crisis line is 24 hour. We can walk you through. Whether it's an inpatient or whether it's seeking out some outpatient services coming into Johnson County, Monday through Friday starts at 8:00 AM walk in clinic. That's my team. We can talk about community resources, we can talk about crisis intervention, we can talk about a mental health assessment.
Theresa Freed: [08:05] All right. And you talked a little bit about the loneliness factor in social media. So can you both kind of address how new technology is playing a role in people feeling more isolated when you would think that they would feel more connected?
Rory Swenson: [08:18] Right. So I think technology honestly is a double-edged sword. So I have a lot of friends that are going through a lot of difficult issues and the only way that they can talk or contact me is through their phone and through Snapchat really. So while it's not so all but like at the, so they're able to contact me and we're able to talk it out. But the same time the social media aspect that, you know, so popularized by the media that you're seeing how other people are being so successful or they're posting the best parts of their lives and it kind of weighs down on you. But that's also an effect and it's definitely a real thing. But it's also important to keep in mind that if you take your foe, the kid, the kid's phone away, then they lose contact with their friends or something like that. So technology is something that can both help and hurt as long as you know how to address it and balance it. That's what's really important. So have that discussion with your kid a, is this technology? Do you actually think, is it helping you or hurting you? Because if the kid's able to consciously decide that maybe not having Instagram is a good choice for a couple months, they can just back off and then that'll distress them and then they can come back later if they want to. But as long as they had that connection with their friends and their support system, then it should pan out for the good.
Theresa Freed: [09:25] All right. This is a whole new issue for a lot of parents. They never had to deal with this. You know, I'm in my forties and you know, this certainly wasn't an issue that I dealt with. And when I was a teenager, I mean we have the same issues, I'm sure that everybody has, but technology just wasn't one of those factors. So are there resources for parents on how to address technology specifically that might be contributing to bullying or, or some of these concerns?
Rory Swenson: [09:50] So, yeah, so there's tons of resources online is just a quick Google. In fact, I was just recently talking to a start up that happened in Kansas city. That's their main goal is to educate parents on how to educate their kids on safe use for media. So it's a non for profit and it starting out, there's tons of things like it as just get the education on maybe an hour a day is good for a kid and just build from there and establish what's right for your kid and what's wrong.
Renee Van Meter: [10:17] Is that the Start Initiative? Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I would, it was very new to me. I know that I've had some colleagues engaged in some of the forums at Start. I love it and thanks Rory for speaking up on, on that one. I also want to encourage parents again because of just courageousness and in talking about how parents can use technology to instill that critical decision making. That right, let's face it in a couple of years they're going to be doing on their own. So utilize technology, use that decision making instead of removing that phone from them, have a conversation and work together with your child about how to use it safely. How do you use it in a healthy manner.
Theresa Freed: [11:01] All right, that's some great advice. And to touch a little bit more on the, the bullying aspect. I mean we see this probably in, in social media but also down the hallways of schools. So in that can probably be a contributor to somebody's mental health. I mean that can sometimes cause trauma depending on the severity of an issues. So talk about how you confront those sorts of issues as a parent and as a student.
Renee Van Meter: [11:25] Absolutely. I will start with the advice I give to, to anyone in any perceived or actual right threatening situation is the only person that you have responsibility for to think, feel, or behave is yourself. Right? So again, those thoughts and those feelings can either propel action or inaction. So I really want to support people in determining those best action steps based on those thoughts and feelings that they're having because of words or actions that somebody has had to them. I know that's probably your, or can be a little abstract that might even be having a conversation about, Hey, if you're in the hallway and you encounter words or actions that you find hurtful, what is your action going to be? Right? Who can you go to? Who are your safe adults at this school? Who are your safe peers like Rory was talking about earlier? What are your connections? Who can you find? Right? I think a range of emotions is really healthy. I have not expected everybody to have good days. That's why another project that I'm involved in is specifically titled, It's Okay If You're Not Okay. We can have mood fluctuations, we can have we are entitled to our feelings. We are entitled to our thoughts, but our actions sometimes will have impacts on others. So that's where I really want to encourage youth is what action can you take? Who can you take that with?
Rory Swenson: [12:55] Yeah. So I think something that's important to say firsthand is that bullying is not like what it is in movies. I don't know if that's how it was 20 years ago, but nowadays it's way more complex than that. And often it doesn't happen face to face. Normally it's one kid tells another kid something and mean about them and it spreads and it grows into this big bonfire of stress. So really the best way that I've seen kids address the issues in school, it's going to be difficult and it's gonna be hard, but it's bravery. So as long as you accept that once we get over this hill and you know, a couple of weeks from now, it'll all be behind us. That's enough to get kids through the issues and then connect with the kid that was bullying them later. Cause honestly, normally the bullying isn't, I don't like this kid so I'm going to be mean to them. It's we had some discrepancy that we both are just unaware of cause we haven't talked about it. So nowadays it's not that kids are targeting each other, it's just that it's difficult to be aware of what's going to hurt other people. And by the time you've said it, you can't take it back and you don't know what to do. And it seems like we've seen quite a bit of support within the school system. What's really helping that the school counselors there are becoming a lot more involved. There's resource officers now in schools and kids are starting to feel a lot more safe to talk to these people. So especially if you're someone who has a strong connection with those resource officers there are strong shoulder for you and they can make the dialogue between the potential bully and the students much easier if they both go into that setting with the officer and conduct that set or community communication, you know, in a closed environment with the support there.
Renee Van Meter: [14:27] And one thing I would just like to speak to that, and Rory, I what you just said prompted this. Well you said 20 years ago and it's probably more than that when I was in school pointing that out, when and if I encountered a bully, a quote unquote bully. I didn't have to listen to their words or other people's words, see their words after he got off the bus and went into my home. I didn't have that. I maybe experienced bullying at school or at an event. My heart breaks for the 24 hour nature of social media bullying, I'm using air quotes, which are inappropriate in a podcast. Right. But, but that the impact than around the clock inter viewed, this is just as an overwhelming of the abundance of social media. Is that, is that a recognizable difference that you feel Rory, is that you have? It's out there all the time where I maybe had a little bit of a separation from it?
Rory Swenson: [15:37] Hmm. Yeah, I definitely can be. I know kids that go home and they're still texting about it. And because we texted each other like every 15 minutes, at home sometimes. So, you know, it's not something that...some students have much better skills putting down their phone than other students do. But you know, and I'd, like I said, again, it's a double edged sword. Like maybe kids are telling you that it's okay. They're not trying to be mean to you or something, but at the same time, you know, it can create the conflict. So it's important again, that you just be careful with how you're using technology and be, you know, aware of what's happening. Appreciate it.
Theresa Freed: [16:15] All right. And so any other advice that you'd like to give parents or students just as they deal with this issue? I mean, it may be something that they're confronting for the first time and, and they may need some help,
Rory Swenson: [16:28] Right? So I like, I like to look at it as, you know, there's good days and there's bad days and it starts to become an issue when there's more bad days than good days. And the good days aren't happening as frequently. And so I think the best way to self-diagnose what's happening is ask your friends, are you acting different and see, you know, try to get your foot back on pace and then get back involved in community activities. Cause doing what you love is the best way to become happier. So when I get stressed out I just start running more push myself harder and cross country and sweat it out. And that helps me to get back on track. That's not right for some kids. But doing what you love will definitely help you get back on track.
Theresa Freed: [17:05] Alright. Anything from you?
Renee Van Meter: [17:06] Man. Yes. But I just...Rory...thanks, that's an awesome message. I couldn't have said it any better. And parents, I hope you invite your kiddos to listen to, to what Rory has to say. I think it's really important. I just want to leave with talking with your children is so important. Talking at them will probably get you nowhere, right? So talk listen and look, that is how we communicate with, with our kiddos. I also would just want to leave you with a couple of more resources. I want to remind you of the Johnson County 24 hour Crisis Line (913) 268-0156. I also want to pass on the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK. That's (800) 273-8255 and parents you can also encourage your child to text their message to 741741. And that is actually a text helpline as well.
Theresa Freed: [18:08] All right, very good information. And we do want to go ahead and mention too that Johnson County Mental Health recently launched its own podcast. It is called, 'It's Okay If You're Not Okay.' And so if you had an interest in what we were talking about today here, you'll hear much more about that on that podcast as well. So thank you both for joining us today.
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