Five years ago, Speak Up was founded to provide support to those struggling with their mental health.
A mother of a Blue Valley junior, Jennifer Levinson, is the community outreach facilitator for the organization.
“We were founded in October of 2015 after two of my friends, within a span of May to September, each lost a child to suicide,” Levinson said.
“Our mission is to break the silence and break down the stigma surrounding conversation around mental health and wellness,” Levinson said. “[We want] to get people comfortable talking about their mental health, the way we are comfortable talking about physical health.”
Levinson said over the past five years, the foundation’s views of suicide prevention have changed. The first few years the foundation focused on the signs of someone who is considering taking their life.
“It’s really shifted to getting people comfortable talking about their mental health and wellness,” Levinson said. “We should be so far upstream on having a conversation about our mental health that we never get to the point where someone is contemplating harming themselves or taking their life.”
Levinson said the events this year for suicide awareness have looked different due to the pandemic.
She said the Speak Up foundation focuses on the health of all individuals who need help. The foundation provides help for people on both sides of the state line.
Since they can’t host their annual walk, the foundation is focusing on the mental health of students who haven’t been in school.
“Our walk is not just a walk,” Levinson said. “It’s more about sharing community resources and the program having suicide attempt survivors speak.”
As a suicide survivor herself, Levinson is glad people are more open to talk about their mental health and journey now.
“I attempted three times, two times as a teenager and once as an adult,” Levinson said. “Even though what you all are going through now as teens is completely different than what I was going through as a teen, I still know what it’s like to be in that deep dark hole and feel like it’s never going to get better.”
Levinson said anything you are going through in life can be worked through and fixed with the support of the right people, and suicide is not the answer.
“There’s nothing that could happen that we can’t fix [or] that we can’t get through unless they make a choice to take their life or to harm themselves,” Levinson said. “Once you’ve made that choice, there’s no turning back. We can’t undo that.”
If students know someone having mental health issues, Levinson advises them to reach out. Helping them go talk to someone and taking the right course of actions can make a difference, she said.
“Be open to having the conversation — if you think your friend is struggling, it’s OK to ask them questions: ‘You just seem like you haven’t been yourself lately. Do you want to talk about what’s going on?’” Levinson said. “Recognize that it’s not [a friend’s] responsibility to keep that person alive, but [they can] connect them to a trusted adult and resources.”