Fighting the stigma

The Empower Youth Summit brings together students to discuss suicide prevention


Photo Courtesy of Victoria Marshall

Sophomore Victoria Marshall getting to meet one of the many support animals at the Empower Youth Summit during a breakout sessions.

Bowie Zekpa, Staff Reporter

On Thursday, Oct. 27, students from all over Millard joined together at the Belleueve Christian Center to attend the Empower Youth Summit to discuss mental health and suicide prevention. The annual event works to make every student feel included in every session that goes on throughout the busy seven-hour day.

Students of all different backgrounds banded together throughout the day to get behind a positive message. For the entirety of the gathering, students got to learn more about mental health, while also getting to be reassured that there is always someone there for them.

“The Empower Youth Summit was a thing I didn’t know I needed,” sophomore Victoria Marshall said. “After listening to many presentations and getting lots of information and papers I realized that not everyone is taken seriously for mental health and that is no joke. One of the things the keynote speaker said was ‘if you have a brain it is going to hurt’. Not everyone is affected by mental illness but those who are should have more available resources and people who support them.”

Twenty-two lucky students were able to experience the event. Though counselors express wishing to be able to take everyone that was interested, with the amounts and diversity of students that applied, things were to be limited.

“We put out an interesting google form, so if students were interested they could apply that way and they just had to give a little snippet about why they were interested,” counselor Katherine Van Ravenhorst said. “Whether mental health issues affected them individually, they just wanted to advocate for those who were experiencing mental health issues, or they just wanted to learn more to bring it back to the building, we were able to look through those and choose from that list.”

With a spike in Omaha youth suicide numbers, many people felt the need to take more action and let it be known that students and everyone, in general, are not alone. There is always help and resources available, and that a final decision is not the solution to a temporary problem.

“I think mental health is really important,” counselor Kelsey Nodgaard said. “A lot of kids and students and people in general need support in that area. Whether it’s just a little life hack or acknowledgment that it’s okay not to be okay. It’s important for everyone to know just some basic skills to cope with everyday life or major events.”

With all the uplifting activities and support from every person throughout the day. People of all ages got to learn new skills to help themselves and others. Touching many hearts, guest speaker Emma Benoit got to speak to youth and adults about her story of attempting to take her life at age sixteen.

“In a lot of the breakout sessions I was taking notes, too,” Nodgaard said. “Our keynote speaker, one of her quotes was ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ You just have to be yourself and if you compare yourself to others constantly, it’s not good for you. I really connect with her feelings.”

A large number of people struggle with mental health and struggle quietly. Taking action is just the first step to taking care of people. Though not everyone was able to go on this retreat, those who did unanimously agree it was an amazing eye-opening encounter with many different schools throughout the Omaha area Students and adults were able to learn how to help others in their own environment and outside of a school setting. Making mental health a more accepted and widely discussed topic.