Steve Devore: To help prevent suicide, Kansas youths created these messages of love and reassurance (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. Occasionally, we’ll also pick up columns from other nearby news outlets. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Steve Devore is president and CEO of Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ.

Creativity is one key to building resilience for many youths, and artistic expression helps us to convey feelings and emotions that words fail to capture. Art can provide us with so many protective factors like creativity, connection, and messages that normalize seeking help from others when we feel overwhelmed.

As my team at Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ looks back at the wonderful success of the 2021 Youth Art Contest, we are overwhelmed by the love, support, and care that these students embedded into their works of art. These incredibly talented artists from all of Kansas continue to remind us that, though everyone falls at some point, there will always be someone there to lift us back up.

Organized in conjunction with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, the 2021 Youth Art Contest was created with the intention of providing Kansas students a platform to showcase their messages, thoughts, and inspirations that help them stay healthy and find support when they need it the most.

We were thrilled to receive 29 submissions from 22 different schools (to view submissions, visit the online gallery). These pieces are incredibly impactful because they often display the type of encouragement that students would wish to receive when they are faced with feelings of despair. This contest opened our organization’s eyes to even more ways we can reach out into our Kansas communities and offer support that resonates with students and their feelings.

Experience tells us that what students and young adults say and how they experience the world is so much more impactful than the opinions from those who are older; their viewpoint is curious, raw and honest.

This year, we were thrilled to receive artistic pieces that spanned across many different mediums. In addition to the fantastic drawings, sketches and paintings, we had a significant number of video and digital submissions.

The use of video allowed students to highlight their struggles in a moving and dynamic format. For instance, one of the many videos that left a lasting impact featured a young student staring blankly at the camera. A voice from off screen continually asks this student the same question: “How are you?” The student continues to say “Good” repeatedly, despite his face and body displaying the exact opposite feeling. This perspective enables all of us to adopt a different point of view and realize that many of our daily interactions are only “surface-level.”

Videos like this one remind us all to be intentional when we check in on friends and loved ones. Often, it can be difficult for those who are younger to tell others that they are not feeling OK.

These submissions also highlight the power of the cultural connections of youth. One’s culture can serve as an excellent protective force from thoughts of suicide or hopelessness. This contest was filled with submissions from people of diverse backgrounds, experiences and identities. A student’s culture can help to empower them when they are feeling low and extend compassion and care to those who are struggling around them.

Our hope is that the contest this year made more youth and parents aware of their local resources and the availability of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). People of all ages can call at any time with any concern, not just suicide. Our caring volunteer counselors are always available to listen and connect.

As we look ahead towards future art contests, we are filled with inspiration and excitement. We hope for the next Youth Art Contest to be even bigger than the last, with more submissions from all over the state of Kansas. Our goal is for each community in Kansas to be represented in this showcase and learn all about the various mental health resources available in their state.

Additionally, we will continue to promote free and accessible programs for Kansas youth to produce more digital art in their own styles. When students are encouraged to create messages that are meaningful to them, we can see the struggles, triumphs and perspectives of those who will become the next generation of Kansans.

Thank you to all the families who helped to make this year’s art contest such a success. We are so amazed with the turnout this year, and we hope that the wonderful art pieces encourage even more students to take part in future events.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here. Find how to submit your own commentary to The Lawrence Times here.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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