To help prevent suicide, Kansas youth created these messages of love and comfort

The Kansas Reflector hosts opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Steve Devore is President and CEO of Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ.

Creativity is one of the keys to building resilience in many young people, and artistic expression helps us 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.

Like my team at Kansas Suicide Prevention Headquarters looks back on the wonderful success of the 2021 Youth Art Competition, we are overwhelmed by the love, support and care that these students have incorporated into their works of art. These incredibly talented performers from all over Kansas continue to remind us that, even if everyone falls at some point, there will always be someone to pick us 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 Competition was created with the goal of providing Kansas students with a platform to present their messages, thoughts and inspirations that help them stay healthy and find support when they need it most.

We were delighted to receive 29 submissions from 22 different schools (to view submissions, visit the online gallery). These pieces have an incredible impact because they often display the kind of encouragement that students would like to receive when faced with feelings of hopelessness. This competition opened our organization’s eyes to even more ways we can reach out to our Kansas communities and provide support that resonates with students and their feelings.

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

This year, we were delighted to receive artistic pieces spanning many different mediums. In addition to the fantastic drawings, sketches and paintings, we received 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 example, one of the many videos that left a lasting impact showed a young college student staring blankly at the camera. An offscreen voice continually asks this student the same question: “How are you?” The student continues to say “Good” several times, despite the fact that his face and body are displaying the exact opposite feeling. This perspective allows all of us to take a different perspective and realize that many of our daily interactions are only “surface level”.

Videos like this remind all of us to be intentional when checking out friends and relatives. Often times, it can be difficult for younger people to tell others that they are not feeling well.

These submissions also highlight the power of youth cultural ties. A person’s culture can be a great protective force against suicidal thoughts or hopelessness. This competition was filled with submissions from people of diverse backgrounds, experiences and identities. A student’s culture can help hold them accountable when they are feeling down and extend compassion and caring to those who are struggling with them.

We hope this year’s competition has sensitized more youth and parents to their local resources and the availability of National lifeline for suicide prevention (800-273-8255). People of all ages can call anytime with any concern, not just suicide. Our caring volunteer counselors are always available to listen and communicate.

As we contemplate future art competitions, we are filled with inspiration and enthusiasm. We hope that the next youth art competition will be even bigger than the last, with more submissions from all over the state of Kansas. Our goal is for every Kansas community to be represented in this showcase and learn all about the different 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 make this year’s art competition a success. We are very amazed at the turnout this year and hope that the magnificent works of art will encourage even more students to participate in future events.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of those affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own comment, here.

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