Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Going back to school this year looks a lot different. It’s a scary and uncertain time for our youth, and that brings a myriad of feelings and emotions. Many kids are struggling to stay connected, stay on task, and navigate their unfamiliar feelings. 

Kid in the Corner (KITC) is a foundation dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide prevention. It was founded shortly after the tragic death of Zachary Sumner. Our mission is to shatter the stigma that surrounds mental health and to support the Kid in the Corner, whoever that may be. We are dedicated to helping kids who are struggling, feeling alone, or needing support. Our vision is that no family will ever again suffer the loss of a child by suicide. 

Zach was a kind, smart, witty,16-year-old who, after a short battle with mental illness, took his life in a manic episode. Zach fought hard to conquer his mental illness. However, he often felt alone and that nobody cared about him. After a two week stay in the hospital following a breakdown, none of the kids at school reached out to ask where he had been or how he was feeling. It was as if mental illness made Zach invisible. Zach was well-liked, yet he was convinced that he was alone — that he was a Kid in the Corner. This sense of isolation and insignificance fueled his depression and the decision to end his life. It wasn't that nobody cared, but that nobody knew what to say, so they said nothing. After his death, we realized that there were many aspects of his story that needed to be shared to prevent similar tragedies in other families.

Fred Rogers often said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”

We believe that communication is so important. The ability to have conversations with our children about difficult topics such as suicide, depression, sadness, and anxiety is the key to shattering the stigma and normalizing mental health. 

We at Kid in the Corner teach kids how to start these difficult conversations. We use a simple approach that we call the Penny Pledge. Why a penny? Zach was a coin collector. After he died, we found thousands of pennies in his room that he had collected. Volunteers at Paradise Valley High School drill holes in the pennies for us. When we visit schools, every student is given a penny, takes the pledge with us, and is encouraged to wear the penny around their neck, on their backpack, or on their ID. The Penny Pledge includes a three-part individual call to action:

  1. Reaching out to others,
  2. Taking care of one's own mental health, and
  3. Being a safe and caring person to talk to.

Penny Pledge

By wearing this penny, I pledge to:
Reach out to the kid in the corner. Say hello, smile, ask where they’ve been.
Be aware of my own mental health. It’s okay to not be okay.
Realize there is strength in asking for help.
Be a safe and caring person that others can talk to. Be a friend. Be a shoulder to lean on. Listen.

We have visited dozens of schools and have delivered our programming to thousands of students. Those students put the pledge into action and it has helped save lives. 

The pledge is more important than ever because kids are struggling as a result of the pandemic. They are grieving the lives they had, and they are trying their best to adjust to the uncertainties of the life they are currently living. Here are some ways we as parents can apply the Penny Pledge to help our kids:

Reach out

  • Check in on your kids. 
    • How are they feeling?
    • What do they need to be successful during distance learning? 
    • Have their moods/appetites changed? 

Take care of your own mental health

  • It’s ok to not be ok
    • It’s ok to feel what we feel. We are not supposed to be ok right now!
    • Help define what your child is feeling — loneliness, loss, isolation? Help them to understand that these feelings are quite normal in today’s world.  
    • Let them know they are not alone and that there is help available. 
  • Encourage your child to develop a self-care plan
    • Who is their safe person to talk to?
    • What mindfulness exercise or mantra helps to calm them?
    • What is their self-love language? Exercising, art, video games, spending time with animals?
    • What helpful resources are readily available and reliable?

Be a safe and caring person to talk to

  • Validate your child’s feelings. 
    • As parents, we want more than anything to fix things for our kids. However, quite often all they want or need is validation. 
      • That must feel awful. I’m sure that is so frustrating. Would you like to talk about it?
    • Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions
      • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
      • Do you have a suicide plan?

While not every child feeling anxious and depressed during this time is suicidal, it is important to know the warning signs and keep an eye on the state of your child’s mental health. 

Youth Suicide Warning Signs 

  1. Talking about or making plans for suicide.
  2. Expressing hopelessness about the future.
  3. Withdrawal from or changing in social connections/situation.
  4. Noticeable changes in eating, sleeping, or hygiene habits.
  5. Unexplained or unusually severe, violent, or rebellious behavior.
  6. Risky behavior. Increased alcohol or drug use.
  7. Giving away prized possessions.
  8. Declining grades and school performance.

Resources

Each of these Resources are extremely helpful in different situations.

Hotlines

Teen Lifeline (talk or text)
602-248-8336 
or 800-248-TEEN 

Teen Lifeline’s Peer Counseling Hotline provides troubled youth throughout Arizona the opportunity to access immediate help from a Peer Counselor 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

EMPACT Crisis Line
(480) 784-1500 or
(800) 273-8255

La Frontera / EMPACT-SPC’s 24-hour Crisis Hotlines are available to callers who are feeling suicidal, find themselves in a crisis, have been a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, and/or need a referral for services. Face-to-face services are provided by a Mobile Crisis Intervention Team if immediate assistance is deemed necessary. Hotline services are available to all ages and populations within and outside of Arizona.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-talk

Resources for Providers

Integrated Mental Health Associates 
(480) 261-5015
integratedmha.com
A Scottsdale Practice with 11 providers with varying specialties taking insurance 

Sondermind
kidinthecorner.withsondermind.com

This free service, specific to the Phoenix area, will match you with providers based on the information you provide. 

Psychology Today
psychologytoday.com

Psychology Today's Therapy Directory lists clinical professionals, psychiatrists and treatment centers who provide mental health services in the US and internationally.


About the Author

Francine Sumner is the founder and CEO of Kid in the Corner and mom to Jacob, Gabrielle, and Zachary. She is a graduate of the 2019-2020 AZ LFC Fellowship program and a current member of the ASU Non-Profit Management Cohort.