Gilbert, Chandler mayors address teen suicide SanTan Sun News

Gilbert, Chandler mayors address teen suicide

May 25th, 2021 STSN Staff
Gilbert, Chandler mayors address teen suicide
Community
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By Ashlyn Robinette
Staff Writer

Suicide prevention and awareness were on the minds of Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson and Chandler’s mayor and vice mayor as they joined a virtual town hall recently with two experts on the subjects.

Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke and Chandler Vice Mayor Mark Stewart joined representatives from Teen Lifeline and notMYkid in a State of Mental Health roundtable. It was organized by Chandler educator Katey McPherson, Gilbert marketing and communications director Cori Garcia and Stewart.

Citing the suicide of a Perry High sophomore and the drug overdose death of a Hamilton High senior earlier this month, Stewart said, “We want to keep them top of mind during this conversation because we want to stop this from happening ever again if we can.”

All three officials said they are committed to making mental health a priority in Gilbert and Chandler and are having more frequent conversations with local experts to educate and provide the community with the resources they need to confront these issues head on.

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, the mayors hope to destigmatize mental health and generate life-saving conversations.

“This is an issue that affects us all,” Peterson said. “This past year I’ve seen so many people with inner angst that is affecting their regular interactions with others.

“You might not even think it’s happening to you or a loved one or a friend but it is and we need to pay attention. We need to continue to talk.”

Last year, COVID-19 prevented progress of the One Gilbert Initiative, a community-wide effort formed in 2019 to prevent and respond to the youth mental health crisis, Peterson said.

This year, Peterson said she will look into the initiative and how to move it forward. She wants Gilbert’s soon-to-be formed community engagement task force to work on mental health as well.

Peterson and the Gilbert Town Council are also embarking on Year ONE, a new campaign focused on making a difference in the community through spreading #GilbertKindness.

“The most important way we can all affect each other is to be kind,” Peterson said. “We need to focus on Gilbert kindness and share that with our neighbors in Chandler and in the region.”

Gilbert Police Chief Michael Soelberg is committed to bringing a family advocacy center to Gilbert, Peterson said. She has made supporting Soelberg in bringing that advocacy center forward her main commitment for 2021.

To address rising youth suicide, the mayors spoke with Teen Lifeline Clinical Director Nikki Kontz and notMykid CEO Kristen Polin, who both encourage having open conversations about suicide and mental health to destigmatize asking for help.

“We cannot create a bubble of a perfect world for our children,” Kontz said. “We instead have to instill resiliency in them on how to handle life struggles when it happens. We need to model it and show our kids.”

All Arizona high schools and colleges will be required to have a suicide prevention phone number printed on the back of their student IDs beginning July 1, Kontz said.

Teen Lifeline, a Phoenix-based nonprofit providing suicide prevention services to teenagers statewide, first started working with schools to get their crisis hotline to appear on student IDs in 2015.

Over 270 Arizona middle schools and high schools already participate in Teen Lifeline’s student ID initiative and more than 1,000 high schools and nearly 60 colleges and universities in Arizona will now be required to add a suicide prevention phone number to their student IDs under the new law.

Kontz describes the initiative as a “life saver and conversation starter” that ensures that students, families, parents, faculty and staff at schools are aware that Teen Lifeline is available to them 24 hours a day.

Gilbert Public Schools and Chandler Unified were among first districts in the East Valley to take on this initiative even before it hit the Legislature.

Chandler also has Teen Lifeline’s information in all of their school buses, Kontz said, adding “Lives are being saved with every conversation.”

Through Teen Lifeline’s peer-to-peer crisis hotline, which is supervised by master’s-level behavioral health clinicians, struggling teenagers are able to first turn to peers who better understand what they’re going through and can connect them with healthy adults in their life who can get them the other help they need, Kontz said.

“Arm them as much as you can with all the different avenues and understand there are some things that are just too hard to tell our mom and dad right away,” Kontz said.

Kontz says that the top suicidal warning sign is first that gut feeling in your stomach.

“If you feel uneasy about someone in your life, you feel that they are hurting or that there is something going on with them and you just can’t put your finger on it- that is the number one warning sign,” Kontz said.

Suicide is always going to be a complicated issue that won’t be fixed quickly so don’t try to solve or dismiss their problem, Kontz said. Instead, spend that time really listening and understanding them to get to the root of the problem.

Polin said that listening and validating what youth are experiencing is critical.

notMYkid is another nonprofit organization that provides children and families with lifesaving programs, support, resources and education to empower and educate them with the knowledge and courage needed to identify and prevent negative youth behavior.

“End the stigma. Make sure your kids know it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay for parents to ask for help,” Polin said. “They might not know what help they need but what I hope is being communicated is to start somewhere and don’t do it alone.”

As schools close, families have to turn to other avenues for help, Polin said.

She has been hearing from pediatricians that they are overwhelmed by the number of families that are asking for support. She noted there are many nonprofits in the East Valley willing to help families every step of the way with navigation of support and services free of charge.

The next conversation covering suicide and mental health is 6 p.m May 24, Kontz said. Teen Lifeline and notMYkid will speak to the Chandler Unified School District, Chandler Fire and Chandler Police Department for a deep dive into the crisis system and how to navigate it.

“Let’s get this down to zero,” Stewart said.

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