Views from Kansas: Listen to and help kids

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Recently, Kevin Hines visited Topeka. Nearly 20 years ago, he tried to kill himself. He lived, surviving the fall from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and he has since traveled the country telling his story.

He spoke at the Topeka Performing Arts Center on Nov. 13, making an appearance that one hopes not only saved lives but continued a conversation about the toll of suicide. Too many young people die this way. Suicide, far from being any sort of personal failing or romantic drawing of a curtain, is in fact an urgent mental health issue.

In speaking with The Topeka Capital-Journal, Hines noted a recent New York City requirement that third-graders be educated about mental health and suicide prevention. Similar programs could go far not just in New York, but in Topeka and across Kansas. Parents may not be ready to acknowledge the pain that their children experience, but their children deserve to live healthy, productive and long lives.

“We need to start teaching our kids … how to defeat pain, how to cope with it, how to survive it, how to be resilient in the face of it,” Hines told The Capital-Journal.

Later, Topeka welcomed another nationally noted speaker. Nathan Harmon spoke at Hayden Catholic High School on Nov. 15. His friend died in a car he was driving while drunk. After being released early from prison, Harmon has worked to honor the memory of Priscilla Owens, while urging young people to consider the choices they make.

“There’s a lot of students, there’s a lot of people, that are screaming for help, but they’re silent,” Harmon told The Capital-Journal. “These talks, we’re trying to let people know that it’s OK to not be OK, and that they’re not alone, and that many of us are facing challenges, adversity. But giving up is not an option.”

Harmon and Hines have mutually reinforcing messages. We cannot grow healthier as a community, we cannot help young people in the way they need, unless we’re willing to communicate openly and freely.

And adults have a huge responsibility. Our current toxic political climate, our denial of such long-term threats as climate change and resource depletion, can make it seem as though the future will feature nothing but overwhelming challenges. We owe it to today’s teens and young children to repair these problems, to show them that adulthood and our country are worth waiting and working for.

But we most all work together. We must speak, and above all, we must listen.

— Originally published in The Topeka Capital-Journal

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