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SPEAK UP: Supporting Mental Health for Children and Teens

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Suicide Prevention Education Awareness for Kids United as Partners, or SPEAK UP, is a not-for-profit charitable foundation created in 2015 by two families that both suffered the devastating loss of a child to suicide. 

Co-founder Allie Doss said, “After Sara passed, I wanted to change the world she struggled with. I wanted to show our youth that there was always another option. Sara was at war with herself. Everyone who loved and knew her become collateral damage that day. Some of our wounds will never heal. Every day I wake up hoping and praying that what I do with the foundation will save more lives in our community. 

“I will be the Martin Luther King of mental health. I will continue to fight and speak up until every child has the belief that they matter, that they can seek help without judgement, and that mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. I want to create a world in which we are supported and lifted up with all of our illnesses we face including the fights that we face inside. Every day I wake up hoping and praying that what I do with the foundation will save more lives in our community. No mother should wake up every day with only her child’s memories.” 

Since the organization began in 2015, suicide statistics have increased at an alarming rate. Johnson County has the highest suicide rate in the state. Drs. Karen and Steve Arkin, co-founders, remarked, “In these troubled times, it is sometimes hard for us all to find a sustaining sense of purpose. The tremendous loss of our dear son, Jason, to suicide three years ago was unimaginable. We hope that SPEAK UP can help others realize how loved, needed and valued they are. We are focusing on the youth in bringing this message forward, as the future is in their hands.”

It is our hope that SPEAK UP will provide education and awareness, bridging gaps among our community, schools and parents. We wish to encourage conversations with our children, provide parents information on how to identify warning signs and offer resources if you think your child is at risk. Most importantly, we want to end the stigma associated with mental illness and teach kids that it is okay to ask for help. “While parents and school leaders are part of the community to help our teens, it takes teen leaders to influence their peers if we are really going to be successful in removing the stigma of mental illness and preventing suicide. That is why SPEAK UP is focused on providing teen-led resources in our schools,” affirmed Jan Marrs, mother of Lane Marrs. 

As SPEAK UP community outreach facilitator, I, myself, continue to struggle with suicidal ideation. I speak up because I believe there might be that one child who needs to know they’re not alone and there are brighter days ahead. We must have hope.

Written by: Jennifer Savner Levinson, Community Outreach Facilitator

SPEAK UP Walk 2018
Join us Sunday, September 16, 2018, at Garmin Pavilion, 1200 E. 151st Street, Olathe, for the third annual walk; registration at 8:00 a.m. with walk at 9:00 a.m. Funds raised will help educate local teens and their families about mental health through SPEAK UP. Register at