VETERAN OUTREACH. Sherburne County Veteran's Service Officer Eugene Graff passed out information on mental health and suicide prevention for veterans and their families during the Healthy Community Night program.

"Healthy Community Night" shares outreach

Contributing Writer
David Hannula


By David Hannula, 
Contributing Writer
A number of area groups and agencies concerned with mental health issues were on hand for a Healthy Community Night program at Becker High School.  The evening program began with a health fair in the commons area at BHS, where the various agencies and individuals had displays set up and pamphlets and brochures available to give to attendees.
Among those attending were representatives of the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office, Eugene Graff of the Veteran’s Service Office, sharing information for veterans including the Veterans Crisis Hotline (1-800-273-8255), NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of St. Cloud, the Four County Crisis Response Team (1-800-635-8008), Lutheran Social Services of St. Cloud, Connect Counsel-ing and Consulting (Chris Gilyard) of Becker, Empowering U (Cindy Lovelette), the St. Cloud VA Health Care System, Becker PTSA  and the National Suicide Preven-tion Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
Keynote Speaker
The featured speaker for the program was Dr. Daniel Reidenberg, the national director of S.A.V.E., (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), who provided an overview of the suicide crisis in the U.S. and around the world to the audience of around 60 attendees in the BHS auditorium.
In 2010, the last year for which figures have been officially compiled, there were 38,000 suicides, according to the Center for Disease Control, Reidenberg said, one every 13.7 minutes in this country.  More people are lost to suicide than to traffic accidents in this country each year.  There is an attempt every 32 seconds, he also said, with men being more likely to take their own lives, and the “middle-aged” are the largest group represented in the figures.  Worldwide, a million people or more take their own lives each year.
Reidenberg illustrated the progression of mental illness leading to suicide to a timeline, beginning with a life view that is positive and enriched, and, as he walked across the stage, describing the downward progression into depression and pain that ultimately can lead to self-extinction. Communication is the key, he said, but sometimes the individual in distress cannot talk about it, which makes education and observation such key factors in intervention and treatment.
Brain illness also begins at a very early age, Reidenberg said, and symptoms and problems change as children age into adolescence and young adulthood.  Learning the signs and developing the ability to observe and respond to mental illness are also key to others to deal with psychological pain and in preventing suicides.
Overall, Reidenberg stressed the importance of talking, finding ways to help when we see people who are trapped in a cycle of suffering.  The “final decision to commit suicide is usually made in the last 10 minutes,” Reidenberg said, and in only 20 to 25% of cases is a suicide note left behind.
Three young people from the Twin Cities who have been assisted by the S.A.V.E. organization took part in a panel discussion, describing their own and other people’s experiences with mental illness, depression and the pain and thoughts of suicide that ensued.  The trio, Jordan, Max and Sabrina, came from different backgrounds and fought different battles, but all agreed communication and getting through were key to helping people in crisis.
A group of adults also took part in the panel discussion, including Sgt. Tim Jeanette of the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Dept., Sarah Aaseby, whose brother, Dylan, a BHS student, took his own life in February of this year, mental health professional Bill Affeldt and BHS Asst. Principal Mark Kolbinger.
During the conversation, Jeanetta described the work the police must do when called to the scene of a suicide, noting that they must “process” the area as they would a crime scene, both to ensure that the details of the case are recorded accurately, and to satisfy investigators that the death is an actual suicide and not an act staged to look that was by another party.  
He also spoke of the deep shock family members experience in the aftermath of a suicide, and the difficulty they have in communicating with law enforcement as the focus of their attention is all on the death that has just occurred.
Aaseby spoke movingly of the devastating impact hearing the news of her brother’s suicide had on her and other members of the family, and the deep grief that echoes from the event even as time passes. “Every day, you think of that day,” she said.
All of the components of the presentation arrived at the same conclusion, which has three parts:  Pay attention.  Listen.  Say something.


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