After local mental health advocate dies by suicide, shocked colleagues share resources

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — The board president of the mental health support group NAMI Kansas took his own life over the weekend.

Eric Harkness was deeply involved in the community as an advocate for mental health. After learning he died by suicide, many who worked with him are shocked.

“I was sad that we lost an incredible voice,” said Monica Kurz, director of the KSP Resource Center. “He was an incredibly passionate voice and always really focused on how to do the most good for the most people.”

Executive Director Dr. Sherri Vaughn posted on the NAMI Kansas Facebook page, saying Harkness was board president from 2015 and “up to his passing from this earth.”

Harkness also served on the NAMI State President’s Council and was president, just this year, of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition. That’s where he met Kurz, a member.

His death is tragic. That being said, every death by suicide is tragic.

Susan Rome with the Johnson County Mental Health Center said there are signs you can look for, including change in behavior and isolation.

“We want to really encourage people to ask direct questions about, ‘Are you feeling like hurting yourself?’ That’s really hard to do,” Rome said. “We have a lot of good training that can help with that.”

Rome said there’s a healthy way to talk about suicide, noting the “Zero Reasons Why” campaign started by students in the Johnson County School District.

It was born to combat the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” a show that talks about a person taking their own life in a way Rome said might not be the best avenue to get the conversation started.

“Sometimes the things that are on those kinds of outlets are not in the form that we think is helpful for our community — especially for our teens,” Rome said.

Kurz wants to open the door wider for everyone, including people in their field, to feel comfortable asking for help.

“The reality is that anybody can be at risk of suicide at anytime for any reason,” Kurz said.

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.


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