Recently Erin Grace did a series of powerful articles in the Omaha World Herald on the status of mental health services in our community. While the intention was to highlight where gaps exist, and she did this successfully, I think she also did a nice job of telling one brilliant story of recovery, as well as the real struggles families have faced in their journeys with mental illness. I would like to begin with a huge thank you to the Duckert, Shumaker, and Pinkelman families for telling their stories, sharing their grief and tragedies, and providing messages of hope and concerns, all to shed light on the successes and failures of our mental health system. These are just three of the thousands of families living in the Omaha Metro area that are impacted by mental illness or have lost a loved one to suicide. It is such a wide spread issue, yet it is still one of those issues that isn’t talked about enough. My hope is that Erin’s articles will shed light on some of the barriers faced when one is ready to seek out services – or a family is trying to get their loved one help, show people the diverse demographics of those impacted by mental illness, and bring people together to find solutions, not just talk about the problems. These news articles stemmed from a recent report that came out by the Colorado-based TriWest Group.
In my opinion the TriWest report was jam-packed with worthwhile information, but nothing that was earthshattering. Or nothing that families who are experiencing these situations haven’t been saying for years. We know we have a broken system; we know that there are still too many barriers to seeking treatment; we know that a strong stigma still exists around mental illness; we know that there are shortages (workforce, access, availability, community-based services, you name it). What this report did was provide qualitative information by an outside (unbiased) voice to shed light on the problem. My hope is this will light a fire under the powers that be to make some much needed changes. Two independent individuals made this happen, and I applaud their willingness to back these efforts and bring these issues to the forefront. As a community, I hope that we take this information and move forward with solutions, not just conversation.
I believe the most important thing that came from this report and these articles was real stories about real problems. Erin provided these families the platform to share their stories, but more importantly, the families found the strength and courage it took to tell their story. While all of the stories were extremely powerful and moving, I thought it was wonderful how Erin Grace ended the series with a hopeful story of recovery. Nancy Pinkelman has fought through her battle with mental illness and is helping others realize recovery is possible, and healing comes in many forms. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Nancy, but I believe she is doing great work at Community Alliance and is impacting the lives of others. To read her story, as well as the Duckert’s and Shumaker’s, please click the links below.
Here at The Kim Foundation we continue pushing forward with our Metro Area LOSS Team. For those of you that aren’t familiar with it yet, it is Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS). I have to say I’ve been so moved by the passion that our new team members possess for helping others through the extremely difficult situation of a suicide of a loved one. They have all taken their own grief and turned it into something positive . . . helping others. Unfortunately the last few weeks have illustrated the incredible need for this service. There was a cluster of suicides in Sarpy County over a six day period, and these services were desperately needed for these families. While I feel the postvention efforts we do through LOSS are vital, we have got to do more on preventing suicides in our community. Help us get into schools, church groups, business groups, service clubs, anywhere you have a connection, so that we can have the conversation about the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. If we can reach these individuals and connect them with resources prior to the crisis, perhaps we can prevent these deaths from happening. My deepest sympathies are with these families and loved ones.
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation for three years, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the executive committee of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, RESPECT Advisory Committee, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition and the Adolescent Mental Health Coalition. She also serves on the Women’s Fund Circles Board.