By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
An urgent call to action in the name of Indiana’s children found a receptive audience at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Monday night.
In an arena better known for Indiana Pacers games and concerts, a crowd of 650 came to watch the Indianapolis premiere of the mental health documentary “Racing to Respond.”
The 45-minute film, developed by Riley Children’s Health, tells the deeply personal stories of two Hoosier families who have experienced the youth mental health crisis in Indiana.
Teenager Jacqueline Scott and her mother, Shawn, talk about Jacqueline’s mental health struggles, including incidents of self-harm and thoughts of suicide, in the film.
Randy and Angie Eugenio share their heartbreak over the loss of their son, Tate, to suicide two years ago.
“He was a great kid, he was successful, he was well-supported, he was loved, and he still struggled,” Angie Eugenio says through tears in the film.
“You just want to be with your baby. I just want to hold him.”
Shocking statistics also tell the story. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among adolescents in Indiana, according to the Indiana Center for Prevention of Youth Abuse and Suicide. That same group reports that 22% of high school-age girls and 12% of high school-age boys seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
The alarming rise in mental health crises is further complicated by a lack of access to quality care, said Riley President Gil Peri, who helped galvanize support around the state for a strategic plan to help Indiana’s children.
That plan includes early intervention, something Riley Children’s Health is launching now with support from a state grant and a philanthropic commitment from the Riley Children’s Foundation.
It involves embedding mental health services in primary care offices, making access to care available in convenient and trusted locations as soon as the need is identified.
Further investments would develop more school-based services, parent support programs and enhanced training on effective, evidence-based interventions.
Additionally, core strategies identified in the statewide plan include improved access to outpatient mental health services; safe interventions for kids in crisis; and timely, effective inpatient care when appropriate.
“There are things we see every day that we just ignore,” University of Southern Indiana President Ronald Rochon says in the film. “People in crisis no longer can wait for you to be attentive immediately to this issue. Families want this, families need it, families deserve it.”
Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, an outspoken advocate for improved mental health services in the state, thanked Riley for its leadership in bringing community partners together to focus on the issue. During her remarks, she asked the audience how many have dealt with mental illness or addiction or have a loved one who has suffered because of it.
Nearly everyone raised their hand.
“Look around the room,” she said. “It’s all of us. That’s why we’re here.”
For 100 years, Riley has been the state’s leader in caring for kids’ physical health, but now it is taking on the challenge of improving mental health care as well, along with more than 200 partners (clinicians, educators, legislators, business and community leaders, families) around the state. It cannot do it alone.
“We are committed to working with the state and all the stakeholders to make a difference,” Peri told the group gathered at Gainbridge, the last scheduled stop on a multi-city tour of “Racing to Respond.”
“We have to realize that we’re at a point where we need to do something different,” Peri said. “If in five years, we are sitting at the same place we are today, we have not taken advantage of a very important moment.”
Following the film, a panel discussion brought forth both personal and professional perspectives on the issue and thoughts on how to move forward. Panelists included the Scotts, the Eugenios, Riley behavioral health specialist and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at IU School of Medicine Dr. Leslie Hulvershorn, Indiana Sen. Michael Crider and clinical psychologist Dr. Michele Thorne.
Sen. Crider said he is encouraged to see alignment on strategies to improve mental health care among the business community, faith community, education leaders and healthcare providers.
“The thing that is most encouraging to me is the willingness to openly discuss the fact that generally everybody is dealing with something and if that stigma can begin to go away and folks can feel comfortable reaching out … I recognize the value of the folks who are trained to provide this level of care,” he said, adding that sustainable funding must be part of any statewide initiative.
Improved mental health care requires investment in training and delivering appropriate care, Dr. Hulvershorn and Dr. Thorne agreed, adding that a better system needs to be established to encourage more providers to seek high-level training in the mental health field.
Angie Eugenio said despite her family’s best efforts, they were not able to get their son the help he so desperately needed, but the IU Health physical therapist has channeled her grief into purpose by advocating for improved mental health care for all children.
“We wanted to be there to help (Tate), and we just didn’t know what to do,” she said. “There are resources out there to educate yourself (NAMI, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), but don’t hesitate to trust your gut. Whether you’re a parent or a friend, if you see something that doesn’t feel right, ask.”
To those who might be struggling with their own mental health right now, she had this message: “You’re not alone. People care. People want to help. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to not be OK. You are loved.”
“It’s OK to be open about it,” agreed her husband. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do. That’s why we’re here … to try to prevent suicide from happening.”
Shawn Scott also encouraged openness, even when it hurts.
“I know a lot of kids don’t share with friends or family what they’re going through because they’re so afraid to hurt them or scare them. It’s OK to hurt us and scare us,” she said. “We love you. We want to be with you through the good and the bad and everything in between.”
Riley chief physician executive Dr. Elaine Cox closed out the evening with a call to action for the crowd, citing an “incredible sense of urgency.”
With suicide as a leading cause of death for Hoosier youth, the race to respond is on, she said, inviting the audience to join in the fight by taking a closer look at the strategic plan distributed at the event and deciding how best to become involved. In addition, she encouraged all to sign up to become a Riley Child Health Champion.
“The only requirement for membership is that you care about kids.” With the mental health crisis looming large, “children need all the champions they can get,” she said. “We hope that you will lean in, sign up and join us in our number one priority, which is ending this crisis and saving children.”
Learn more at rileychildrens.org/champions.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com
“I want this epidemic of suicide to stop” - A Zionsville family shares their painful story in the Riley documentary “Racing to Respond.” Their goal is to spare others the grief they live with every day.