Shawnee Mission district trying to continue the conversation on mental health after two student suicides

SHAWNEE, Kan. -- On the heels of two student suicides this week, the Shawnee Mission School District is taking a new approach to help as the community heals and seeks ways to stop the troubling trend.

"It just seems like it’s almost every week you’re hearing of something like this," said Tim DeWeese, director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center.

Students and parents at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School stood along the streets Thursday to send messages of love and encouragement as the first step in yet another road to healing after suicide.

"We all need to pay a little closer attention to what our kids are saying, what they’re doing," DeWeese said. "If their behavior changes drastically all the sudden or even if we just notice minor things, we really need to have a discussion with them. And it’s about having an open dialogue with your child and being able to ask those questions."

Talking about suicide with a teenager is tough, but the conversations can prove life-saving because pinpointing someone who's considering suicide often is not obvious.

Johnson County is a wealthy, affluent area, yet it's also home to the highest suicide rate in Kansas. And the suicide rate in Kansas is above the national average.

"There’s a lot of pressure to perform at a high level to get into best school, do best work," DeWeese said. "And when you couple that with not necessarily teaching good coping skills or how to create resilience in someone, that can be not a good combination."

Times of tragedy can serve as a flash point to spark a discussion within your family, and if something comes up, to know there are plenty of community resources, including mental health first aid and assist programs aimed at suicide prevention.

"I do believe this issue of suicide is not a school district issue. It’s not a church issue. It’s not a mental health issue," DeWeese said. "It is a community-wide issue that I believe demands a community-wide response. If we don’t come up with solution, the future grows just a little dimmer."

Just to put it into perspective, experts say you're far more likely to cross paths with someone facing a mental health crisis than someone having a heart attack. So it really is up to all of us to do our part in being educated and offering support.

A community meeting on suicide prevention is being held at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night.

Suicide Help Information

If you are thinking of hurting or killing yourself PLEASE call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

Learn how lifestyle changes can help you battle depression. KU is running clinical trials. To learn more call 785-864-4274 (leave a message) or visit

If you are struggling and need to talk to someone who understands, call 1-866-WARM-EAR or 913-281-2251.

If you need more information or a referral, please call Mental Health of America at 913-281-2221.

No matter your financial situation, there is help available. Please seek help if you or someone you know is suffering.

Suicide Help Information Online

If you are having suicidal thoughts, we urge you to get help immediately.

Go to a hospital, call 911 or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

Click on the boxes below for our FOX 4 You Matter reports and other helpful phone numbers and resources.