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The Focus of What We Do – Mental Health Awareness

Last month I focused much of what I wrote on suicide prevention. Little did I know that it was simply a foreshadow to such excellent work to come! I don’t know of a September when so much effort was dedicated to suicide prevention – building awareness, raising funds, and media attention. Certainly it is always a focus, but this year seemed to have so much more attention toward it and for whatever the reason, we at the foundation are grateful! We are aware of suicide prevention walks that went on in Ewing, Beatrice, Omaha, Lincoln, and Norfolk, all focused on raising awareness and funds for suicide prevention. We are also aware that Channel 7 here in Omaha did at least one 30 minute spot on suicide prevention, while Channel 10/11 covered events in the Lincoln area on this topic. Film Streams ran an independent film on suicide prevention and surviving a suicide from a sister’s perspective. Numerous presentations were given throughout the community to school groups, church groups, and business groups on this topic this month. So many groups from such a wide spectrum across our community brought attention to this important topic that isn’t spoke of enough, but which consequences are felt by so many. We want to thank you all for your part in this, and let’s keep this awareness and messaging going long past September!

Just as September provides a platform to focus on suicide prevention, October has been dedicated to work on building awareness around mental health across our country. Next week is mental health awareness week, and organizations throughout our state will be hosting numerous events to help build awareness. We will be taking part of many of these, including recognizing this important week this Friday at the Lincoln Regional Center for their annual walk. We will then be kicking off the week Monday with Creighton students, and are proud of them for embracing the importance of mental health awareness and hosting this event where we will speak. We will also partnering with Film Streams to show Mariel Hemingway’s documentary, Running From Crazy, on Tuesday night. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at: Community Alliance will also be hosting their annual Breaking the Silence event October 9th at the Holland Center with some engaging and dynamic speakers! There are so many other events that will help build awareness throughout the state. For more information and a full listing of these, please visit our community calendar (LINK TO with the words community calendar).

All of these awareness efforts work to make ground on breaking the stigma that still too often exists around mental illness in our society. I continue to wonder why after all this time this stigma exists, but we know that it does. It could be cultural differences; an unaccepting public thus far; the fear that someone is alone in the situation they are facing; lack of funding to help breakdown this stigma and research mental health; the idea that this could happen to others, but never me!; simple ignorance of the facts; or any number of reasons that still exist for people. Regardless of the reason, it is reason enough to get up every day and fight the good fight that we do here at The Kim Foundation. Much of our work centers on breaking this stigma and building awareness within the general public about mental health. When we go out into the public hosting booths and doing presentations we focus on the numbers and the way that mental illness is bound to impact each and every one of us at some point in our lives, either directly or through relationships with loved ones. So let’s talk about some of those facts.

According to NAMI’s fact sheet:
•    One in four adults – approximately 61.5 million Americans – experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17 – about 13.6 million – live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder.
•    Approximately 20% of youth ages 13 – 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 – 15, the estimate is 13%.
•    Approximately 6.7% of American adults – about 14.8 million people – live with major depression.
•    Approximately 18.1% of American adults – about 42 million people – live with anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorders, and phobias.
•    About 9.2 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders.
•    Seventy percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with severe mental illness.
•    Approximately 60% of adults, and almost 50% of youth ages 8-15 with a mental illness, received no mental health services in the previous year.
•    Fifty percent of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
•    Serious mental illness costs America 193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
•    Mood disorders such as depression are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the US for both youth and adults ages 18-44.
•    Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than other Americans, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
•    Over 50% of students with a mental health condition age 14 and older who are served by special education drop out – the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
•    Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US (more common than homicide) and the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 15-24. More than 90% of those who die by suicide had one or more mental disorders.

Those are staggering statistics! Though sadly many of these have remained unchanged for years. We need to do better as a society to embrace those impacted by mental illness. We need to do better at understanding what they’re going through, and how each and every one of us can help. We need to continue increasing funding to research and programming for mental health. If we are one of the four impacted by mental illness, we need to reach out for help, but just as important, if we’re not directly impacted, we need to do a better job of assuring the individual who is reaching out, that they’ll have someone there to help them through their journey toward recovery. Let them know that we will serve as their advocate. That we will help connect them to the necessary resources. That we’ll continue inviting them to coffee and dinner parties. That we won’t turn our back on them, and that they are not alone! So let October serve as a reminder to educate yourself and others about mental health, and be the hand for someone as they reach out, because at some point or another, we will all need that hand.


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 two and a half 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, Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition and the Adolescent Mental Health Coalition. She also serves on the Women’s Fund Circles Board.