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Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition launching program for teens

For teens today, life is like a pressure cooker — demands at home, school, from peers and constant bombardment of messages from social media. Kansas City and the country as a whole is facing a mental health crisis with our teens. For some, those pressures tackle teens self-worth, lead to depression and in a growing number of situations, lead to suicide.


Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24, and the Kansas City area is not immune to this startling trend. Each day in the United States there is an average of over 5,240 attempts by young people in the seventh to 12th grades. 

With May designated as Mental Health Awareness Month, The Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition (GKCMHC) announces the launch of You Be You, an awareness campaign focused on changing those statistics and saving teen lives. Convened by Jewish Family Services, the GKCMHC is comprised of 25 member organizations from throughout the metro area working together to combat the stigma associated with mental illness and getting people to the resources they need.

GKCMHC’s main goal with the You Be You effort is to reach teens with a positive message of self-worth and value, reinforcing the idea that they do not need to be perfect, that just being themselves is good enough. Beginning this fall, the You Be You campaign will pilot in nine Kansas City area middle and high schools, a mix of both public and private institutions, including the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. The You Be You campaign will be a school-based and student-led initiative.

Mental health experts indicate that changing the conversation with positive messaging can help diminish negative thoughts, and encourage teens to open up and reach out to others for the help and support they need.

Kansas City-based advertising firm Bernstein-Rein donated its services to create the You Be You campaign for GKCMHC. Teen focus groups informed the strategy and young professionals participated in the creative process as well as the development of messages.

“It was important for us to get teen input as we created You Be You so we could be the most effective with the effort,” said Sarah Link Ferguson, GKCMHC coordinator.

The You Be You campaign has four major components:

• Use of four posters with positive messaging; example: “Progress not Perfection”

• In-school installation of positive messaging — decals for placement on lockers, broken desks, sidewalks, overlays on bathroom mirrors with positive messaging; example “This is broken, You’re not”

• Snapchat filters with messaging found on posters

• Distribution of T-shirts and stickers with same poster messaging

A dedicated website for You Be You launches this fall, providing another resource for teens.

“We hope that the You Be You campaign will be used comprehensively with other tools like guest speakers, Signs of Suicide training for staff and students and using the Text, Talk, Act program to help facilitate discussions about mental health,” said Don Goldman, executive director and CEO of Jewish Family Services, which leads the Coalition and will manage the rollout of the campaign.

Speak Up, a GKCMHC program partner, provides crucial support for the You Be You campaign. Three Kansas City area families — Drs. Steve and Karen Arkin, Allie and Jason Doss, and Jan and Jeff Marrs — all of whom lost their children to suicide, started Speak Up in 2016. 

“The You be You campaign provides tools for a teen leader to get other teens talking about positive self-image, and discussing mental health and illness as you would any other illness,” Doss said. “Speak Up also provides teachers and administrators a variety of additional resources that they can leverage to help teens struggling with suicide as well.”

“The You Be You campaign is a culmination of efforts from a talented team at Bernstein Rein who have generously donated it to the GKCMHC to save young lives,” Karen Arkin said. “It is so important to reach these young people with positive messages that resonate with them, and we are hopeful You Be You will do just that. We want to replace the negative conversation with a positive, reaffirming message.”

The Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition (GKCMHC), a program founded by JFS and the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City, was officially unveiled in May 2014 as an outgrowth of a coalition formed in the Jewish community in 2010 to combat stigma surrounding mental illness. Under the leadership of JFS, the 25-member coalition is pooling resources and expertise to expand efforts in the wider community of Kansas City to combat stigma and increase understanding about mental illness. The effort has a dedicated website at www.itsOK.us.

The full list of schools participating in the initial launch of the You Be You teen mental health campaign are: Blue Springs High School, Blue Springs South High School, Blue Valley West, Blue Valley Northwest, Brittany Hill Middle School, Delta Woods Middle School, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, Freshman Center, Moreland Ridge Middle School, Paul Kinder Middle School, University Academy and Valley View High School.

For more information about the You Be You campaign or GKCMHC, contact Sarah Link Ferguson, GKCMHC Coordinator, at 913-730-1452 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You Be You images are available digitally upon request.