From the Jewish Chronicle
With suicide among young people rising at alarming rates here and around the country, Joy and Stewart Koesten of Leawood have launched a campaign to fund an Endowed Professorship in Developmental and Behavioral Health at Children’s Mercy Hospital supporting research into adolescent depression and suicide prevention.
“We are extremely grateful for the Koestens’ financial gift and their recognition of our mission to care and advocate for children,” said Jenea Oliver, the hospital’s vice president of philanthropy and chief development officer. “This endowed fund will help us fulfill that mission as it relates to teen depression and suicide.”
Through a combination of annual gifts and planned-giving from the Koestens plus contributions from other donors, the endowed professorship eventually will total $1.5 million. The first year’s fundraising goal is $500,000: $300,000 coming from the Koestens and $200,000 being raised from outside contributions.
The first $50,000 contribution has come from Mike Cummings and Pam Miller of Kansas City, Missouri. As a young person, Pam struggled with the emotional and physical abuse caused by her parents’ alcoholism. “I could tell no one. I barely made it through it all,” Pam said. “We want no one else to experience that pain or to feel so alone, ever.”
The Koestens’ own experience as parents dealing with a young person’s anxiety, depression, addiction and suicide fears spanned a decade. “In our own family, we lived with all of that. Thankfully, we and our daughter survived but we’ve known many other families throughout our community who had similar struggles that didn’t end as well,” said Joy Koesten, a former Kansas State representative who co-chaired the House’s Mental Health Caucus. “We’re very gratified at Mike and Pam’s generosity and the other interest we’ve received as we’ve begun raising money for this project. Many people have told us this research will be an important step in better understanding depression that often leads young people to end their own lives.”
Joy’s legislative work brought her into close contact with Blue Valley schools in her district which were struggling with an increase in teen depression and suicide. At the same time, Children’s Mercy was looking for proactive ways to expand its presence in the community. Two years ago, the hospital and the school district formed a novel partnership. They share the expense of placing 19 social workers from the hospital’s staff inside Blue Valley Schools to support the District’s existing counselors and psychologists.
With her legislative experience fighting to fund mental health services coupled with her own family’s experience with teen depression, Joy applauded the new partnership and saw the early results were encouraging. “Clearly the partnership was working because in its first six months, more than 700 students were identified with an elevated risk of suicide and then were connected to additional help,” Joy said. “It shows prevention is possible and lives are saved when dollars are invested in programs supporting mental health professionals.”
Nationally, the suicide numbers are staggering. According to the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide now ranks second (behind accidents) as the leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24. CDC statistics show a death from suicide occurs every 12 minutes in the U.S.
Closer to home, reports in the local broadcast and print media have focused intense scrutiny on teen depression and suicide. A front-page article in the May 5 edition of the Kansas City Star described the metro-wide scope of the problem while staffs at Children’s Mercy Hospital have documented its increase. Its emergency rooms recorded a 39% increase in the number of its young patients needing a suicide assessment from July 2017 to June 2018. The average age of those 1,736 patients was 13; one patient assessed was only 3 years old.
Local advocacy groups and religious organizations have joined school districts and mental health professionals in responding to the rise in depression and suicides. They sponsor public seminars, panel discussions, conferences and new programs all aimed at prevention.
Most recently, superintendents from six Johnson County, Kansas, school districts jointly launched #ZeroReasonsWhy to educate their student and parent communities why “suicide is never an option” after teen suicides nearly doubled in the county during the first half of 2018. The student-driven prevention campaign organizes programs, events, speakers and activities to bolster students’ social and emotional well-being, which can stave off suicide attempts.
The Koestens are confident their endowed fund will enhance all those efforts and more. “Supporting a research scholar right here in our own community who is laser focused on this problem will have enormous impact,” said Stewart Koesten, chief executive of Aspyre Wealth Partners and a past president of Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City. “We couldn’t start soon enough raising funds toward that goal and we hope others like Pam and Mike will join us in this effort.”
Stewart also currently serves as an officer on the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City board and is a trustee of the Kansas City Jewish Community Foundation.
In addition to her commitment to mental health, Joy has spent 20 years in higher education. She earned a PhD in communication studies from the University of Kansas and has taught or lectured at all three KU campuses, Johnson County Community College and Washburn University in Topeka.
For more information about their research endowment fund at Children’s Mercy, contact Joy Koesten at 913-972-7883 or Stewart Koesten at 913- 345-1881.
Anyone needing help in dealing with suicide is encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day and offers free, confidential support.
Joy has blogged extensively about her experience and activities in the legislature and beyond.