KU News Service

KU marketing experts help expand teen crisis and suicide prevention program to hundreds of families

Wed, 06/29/2022


LAWRENCE — Any parent can attest the teenage years can be trying, even in the best of times. A University of Kansas graduate class recently completed a collaboration with Prepped and Ready, an evidence-based program developed at Children’s Mercy Hospital to help parents prevent crises among their teens, with topics including suicide prevention, addressing eating disorders, vaping, the development of the teenage brain and more. The partnership has taken the program online, notably expanding enrollment and reaching a more diverse audience of parents.

The COVID-19 pandemic influenced life in nearly every aspect, adding stress to both teens and parents. But it also provided an opportunity to expand the reach of Prepped and Ready as more aspects of life moved to an online-delivery model. The program wanted to reach more families and a more diverse cross-section of parents and caregivers. Angie Hendershot, professor of the practice in KU’s William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, led a partnership with her capstone integrated marketing communications course and Dr. Shayla Sullivant, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Mercy and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. The collaboration developed new ways to promote the program, featuring a series of informative videos. The partnership helped to boost enrollment and deliver suicide prevention toolkits to hundreds of families throughout Kansas and Missouri.

Hendershot’s class included the research team of graduate students and working professionals Angi Gerstner, Janene Kruger and Tim Seley as their final project to complete their master’s degrees in integrated marketing communications. The team met with Sullivant and her colleagues to determine strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for program growth. Sullivant has since implemented several of the team’s recommendations. The implementation of program delivery by video has helped boost enrollment and the program has reached more than 500 families since the new video series was launched, Sullivant said. The partnership has also helped expand reach of Prepped and Ready from primarily white mothers to a more diverse group, including more fathers, well beyond the Kansas City area.

Perhaps most notably, the team identified a partnership with Cottonwood Industries to prepare and deliver suicide prevention toolkits to hundreds of families. The kits include medication lockboxes, weekly medication organizers, bags to dispose of medications, as well as cable gun locks and gun lockboxes for firearm owners. The kits were created based on research showing that education paired with provision of tools leads to more changes among parents who want to reduce the risk of suicide in their homes.

“One of the most powerful messages we took away is that the key thing we can do is put more time between suicidal ideation and access to the means. That’s why these kits are so vital,” Hendershot said. “The messages we developed were successful at getting parents to think, not only about their own children, but of their friends and families’ as well. It’s a very powerful, evidence-based approach Dr. Sullivant has come up with, and it was a powerful experience for our students to use their communication skills to share that messaging.”

Through her work with delivering Prepped and Ready in person, Sullivant surveyed caregivers about what they learned and their intentions to change behavior following participation in Prepped and Ready. Results published in February showed that firearm owners were five times more likely to store their firearms locked, unloaded, with ammunition locked separately, after participating in Prepped and Ready. Additionally, 56.5% of participants reported disposing of old medications, and 53% reported safely storing medication by the program’s conclusion. The study was published in the Journal of Community Health.

In addition to providing safety toolkits, adding the ability to deliver the program on-demand greatly expanded Prepped and Ready’s access. Previously, the program was offered in person and via webinars, in conjunction with community partners such as schools and churches. This limited the opportunity for many caregivers to participate, as well as the numbers of experts who could share their knowledge. By adding an asynchronous learning component, more experts were able to share information via video, and parents with many demands on their time were able to take part when their schedules allowed. The program was recently awarded grant funding through the Health Levy Innovation Fund to expand its reach in Kansas City, Missouri.

“The students’ efforts have made a huge difference in helping us to move forward. Publicizing this opportunity has been a huge learning curve, as this is not something I learned in medical school,” Sullivant said. “The recommendations from the students have been a priceless addition to our efforts. This partnership has been critical to our success.”

Anyone interested in Prepped and Ready can learn more at the program website.

This fall Sullivant plans to share findings from the latest Prepped and Ready program at the Injury Free Coalition for Kids meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as well as the National Research Conference on Firearm Injury Prevention in Washington, D.C. The goal is to share findings and to continue to expand the program’s work, so making medications and firearms inaccessible to teens at home is the standard. Prepped and Ready’s evidence-based approach to helping families prevent such crises is on its way to boosting the number of families it can serve. As Sullivant noted after developing the program from working with families in crisis, many parents asked, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this sooner?”

“I’m so proud of the class for how to expand its reach as part of a marketing plan. It’s not only about thinking of which social media platform to use, but to put to work big ideas,” Hendershot said. “That’s our goal, to give our course clients things they can use tomorrow.”

Video Credit: Prepped and Ready, William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications.

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