Agencies gather to discuss how to help kids with their mental health

KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - The Nebraska School Mental Health Conference looks to bring agencies with one common mission together. They want to help kids have a better future by teaching them how to face mental health in a positive way.

Speaker Scarlett Lewis had the unthinkable happen. Her six year old son was shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School during one of the worst massacres in U.S. history.

Now she is taking her pain and using it to teach others about how to deal with mental health through the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation.

“When you look at the suffering that is going on in our schools that translates into our society and these are things that were going on decades ago that are now at epidemic proportions,” Lewis said.

She said what happened to her son could have been prevented if things like bullying were addressed and if more people were taught how to manage their emotions.

“Social-emotional learning really is for all of us<” Lewis said. “We have lifespan programming. These are essential life skills that help us have healthy relationships, help us manage our emotions, help us be resilient, make responsible decisions.”

According to the CDC, nearly 4.5 million kids ages 3-17 have anxiety and nearly two million have depression. Teaching them how to cope with conditions like those is what organizations like the Kim Foundation aim to do

“We just really need to get people to understand what mental health truly is, what mental wellness is, and how it affects all of us,”Executive Director Julia Hebenstreit said.

Starting the conversation about mental health can be difficult for some families and a school counselor sometimes isn't enough. But over 400 people from schools and mental health agencies turned out to the conference to show they care and want to make a difference.

“The number of people really shows what we can do as a state, not just one organization but everybody working together to help those who need it because the number of people out there that do need it that come up and share that there are so many more that aren't ready to share their stories yet and so just providing the resources and platform to do so,” Hebenstreit said.

The Kim Foundation, as well as many other organizations at the conference, want to help train teachers and counselors how to help kids as they navigate early life and find ways to have good mental health.