"It's okay to not be okay:" Kim Granger shares her story about suicide to reduce stigma, build resiliency

Although the image of Bambi and his mom in the woods at the center of her round pendant necklace has slowly started to fade from time and daily wear, its meaning is no less vivid to Kim Granger, the health services coordinator for Poudre School District. This necklace, kept close to her heart, acts as a reminder of not being afraid to ask for help, to tell one’s story even when it becomes difficult, and to build resiliency.

Granger began working for the school district a little over a year ago. In that time, she has brought opportunities for mental health awareness to PSD’s team of school nurses and health technicians and continues to highlight their role in supporting students’ mental health and belonging.  

Formerly a nurse practitioner in pediatrics, Granger believes she came to PSD for a reason. It is more than a job; it is her calling. Through her position, working with staff across the district, Kim can support our community’s young people collectively, rather than support one patient at a time.

When telling her story, she described the movie “Bambi” as a coping strategy. She would turn it on for her oldest son Robbie Granger to help him settle down and take a moment to gather herself while raising two young children. 

To someone looking in from the outside, Robbie grew up as an apparently typical child with typical struggles. He did not fit any mental health diagnoses and his behavior issues only made an appearance at home. No one, including those at his Wisconsin school, recognized that there was a problem. 

Robbie Granger with a graduation cap stands next to his mother Kim Granger and brother.
Robbie Granger with his mother and brother at his graduation.

Despite his invisible strife, Robbie was seen as a loving, kind and generous person who excelled at everything. He graduated at the top of his high school class, earned many scholarships and double majored in engineering and finance in college.

Over the years, Granger's relationship with her son ebbed and flowed. He was often distant. This disconnect between them grew as Robbie resisted limits being set at home, when he lived with his dad to avoid telling Granger where he was and who he was with and especially when he refused to let her help him move into his freshman dorm at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Little did Granger know, however, “Bambi” remained important to him and connected them even when it didn’t feel that way to her.

In the spring of 2017, Robbie died of suicide and never once said anything to anyone about his challenges beforehand. Granger received the phone call in the middle of the night while she was away at a conference in Colorado. She called the number back in the morning and immediately knew Robbie was gone when the Medical Examiner’s Office answered.

Following his death, Granger struggled to cope. She grappled with questions like, “Why me?” and, “How could this happen?” Then, an unexpected and profound item gave her some peace of mind.  
In his room, Granger found a necklace – Robbie’s Christmas gift to her that he never gave her. The round pendant showing the image of Bambi in the woods with his mother was inscribed with the quote: “I’m always with you. Even when you cannot see me, I am here.”

Kim Granger smiles with her dog Simon outside.Until then, she didn’t realize how deeply Robbie connected with the memory of this movie and the symbol of being safe and secure in a mother’s protective embrace. This necklace sent her a message that Robbie knew he was loved. Despite their distance, they had healed and had always been connected in their hearts. For Granger, Robbie continues to point the way forward.

“He’s always with me and always will be,” said Granger, who wants to be there for others in her life who may be hurting. 

“I’m always here, as are a lot of staff at PSD, to be that listening ear when somebody needs to talk,” she said. “And please, I encourage you to share your stories because you’re not alone.” 

Because Robbie appeared to be so successful, people in his life didn’t know about the pain that ran under the surface. That’s why it’s critical to Granger to highlight the importance of mental health and focus on every student, not just the ones who are visibly struggling. Had Robbie known he was not alone; he might have reached out for help. He might still be with us today, Granger said. 

Research shows that talking about suicide does not plant the idea in people’s heads. It does not result in more suicides; Granger says when talking about this difficult but important issue that since 2019, it has become the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10-24. By being vulnerable and telling her story, she hopes others will feel more comfortable to share theirs or ask for help.

“Maybe they aren’t ready for it, but I think we’re all learning to be ready for it, and to not be afraid to say ‘Hey, I’ve got you. You need anything, I’m here.’ To me that’s what it’s all about.”

School nurses, health techs and other school staff might be among the first to notice that a students’ physical symptoms could be a sign of underlying mental health distress. A student, for example, who always goes to the health office with a stomachache during fourth period could be struggling with anxiety or depression. School nurses do not exist in a vacuum, however; it takes a whole community to provide comprehensive student mental health support.

PSD has hundreds of mental health professionals – counselors, psychologists, social workers, mental health specialists and more – who help our students. These teams of school and department staff are hyper-focused on collaboration and cross train with one another in the areas of suicide prevention, support of students who have experienced trauma, and more. Staff also help reduce barriers to care and connect students and their families with community resources and providers, including but not limited to the Alliance for Suicide Prevention, SummitStone Partners, 3Hopeful Hearts, and Child, Adolescent, and Young Adult Connections. 

“Mental health impacts every person, and some mental health needs are not met by families or schools alone,” said Sarah Mowder-Wilkens, PSD’s mental health and prevention coordinator, who oversees the district’s Mental Health team of 21 mental health specialists who serve all schools. 

Mental health and belonging is one of the district’s priorities. Efforts across PSD are focused on reducing the stigma around mental health and increasing awareness of resources available to help. That work is important to Granger, and she and others know more work needs to be done. 

“By teaching our students that it’s okay to not be okay and that they can lean on one another, they can lean on staff, they can lean on family, they can ask for help when they need it. We’re teaching them resiliency,” said Granger. “We’re teaching them how to survive in the real world, and by doing that, by making them stronger, they can overcome adversity, and we really can improve this whole upcoming generation in terms of how they relate with one another and make the world a better place.”


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988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Need support now? If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available - call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.



More support and resources

Suicide Myths and Facts

Myth: Talking to or asking someone if they are having suicidal thoughts may trigger the act.

Fact: Asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal can help lower anxiety, open up communication, and lower the risk of an impulsive act. Talking with the person can help you to determine whether or not s/he is seriously considering suicide.


Myth:  A person who talks about attempting suicide rarely follows through. He is probably just trying to get attention.

Fact:  Two-thirds talked about their intentions before attempting suicide. They are not crying wolf just to get attention. They are reaching out for help because they are experiencing overwhelming emotional pain. All suicidal statements should raise red flags, even if the person jokes about it. If someone you know has mentioned the desire to die by suicide, take him/her seriously and act immediately.


Myth: There is really nothing you can do to help someone who is truly suicidal.

Fact: Most people who are suicidal do not want to die. They are in psychological pain, and they want to stop the pain. Many people who are suicidal do reach out for help. More than half the victims of suicide seek medical attention in the months leading up to their death.


Myth: People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention.

Fact: All suicide attempts must be treated as though the person has the intent to die.
Do not dismiss a suicide attempt as simply being an attention-gaining device.
If the person is saying this to get attention, this attention is likely needed.
The attention they get may well save their lives.


Prevention Trainings - Learn how you can help

QPR (question, persuade, and refer) training is about three simple steps anyone can learn to help save a life from suicide and is offered through Summitstone and The Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Within PSD, QPR is a mandatory training for new staff and many schools opt to have QPR trainings in their buildings. 

Just as people trained in CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver help save thousands of lives each year, people trained in QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help. 


Mental Health Myth and Facts

Myth: Mental health applies only to people who are struggling.

Fact: We all have mental health.  When we talk about mental health services, we mean prevention and intervention.  We know that students learn best and build resilience to stress when their mental health is a priority.


Myth: Mental health is in people’s heads.

Fact: Yes and no. Our brains and bodies are complicated. The impact of chronic stress can cause problems for our health and mental health. Others of us are born with a higher likelihood of experiencing mental health problems. The idea that we can ‘think our way’ out of a mental illness does not account for the many complex ways our brain, body, and environment interact. A more accurate statement might be that mental health is a physiological, emotional, cognitive, and social construct.


Myth: Mental health issues are a sign of weakness.  

Fact: The idea that mental illness is a sign of weakness is outdated.  We know that many people from every demographic suffer from mental illness.  Mental health and mental illness are based on many dimensions of our lives including genetics, support systems, experiences, health, and many more.  There is not a ‘one size fits all’ explanation or solution for mental health issues.  What we do know is that talking about it is the first courageous step to receiving support and moving toward health and well-being.