Metro family who lost son to suicide forms organization to end silence, stigma surrounding mental illness

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Jason Arkin had a bright future ahead of him.

“To know him was to love him. He had a great sense of humor, and I just adored him, and I was so proud of him, and so lucky to be his Mom,” said Karen Arkin.

Jason was a National Merit Scholar, an Eagle Scout, and an engineering student at Northwestern University.

“There was nothing that he wasn`t good at,” said Karen.

As Jason continued to struggle for perfection, his thoughts of self-harm continued to haunt him. He told his mom when he was 12 that he had already had thoughts of suicide.

“And of course, your heart is crushed, and you realize that your son not just has challenges with perfectionism, low frustration tolerance, but you realize that he also has battled with thoughts of suicide probably from a very young age,” Karen said. “My heart was probably as crushed then as it was the day he died.”

Karen and her husband did everything they could. Jason had years of therapy and medical attention for his mental illness. Jason`s parents continuously talked to him and encouraged him to lighten up his school and extra curricular load.

“We told him we don`t care if you graduate college, we don`t care if you get a degree- we just want you to be okay,” said Karen.

But during his junior year at Northwestern, Jason died by suicide.

“For Jason it wasn`t a rash decision- this was something he fought for a decade or so,” his mom said.

Karen and her husband know that mental illness isn`t something people are comfortable talking about, and they want to change that. The Arkins along with Allie Doss, started an organization called Speak Up. It started as an organization comprised of people who lost children to suicide- and it`s grown to include many people affected by suicide.

The organization goes into schools to talk to students, teachers, and staff their goal is to end the silence and stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.

“Part of our goal is to reach out and make it a topic that people don`t feel that they - you know- have to get away from as soon as possible,” said Arkin.

Because of Speak Up, Karen constantly hears about young people who have killed themselves

“It tears your heart apart,” she said. “We`re losing people younger and younger.”

A CDC report shows the rate of children ages 10-14 who've died by suicide has doubled since 2007.

“It`s never too early to talk to your kids about serious topics,” said Arkin.

The Speak Up Walk is September 17th. To find out more about the organization, click on this link.