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Bringing hope: Local efforts aimed at suicide prevention

Alissa Haglin, 16, a sophomore at Brainerd High School, is working to bring a national suicide awareness and prevention program to the Brainerd School District and hopefully other area schools this year. Submitted photo 1 / 2
Jana Lueck, a fifth-grade science teacher at Pequot Lakes Middle School, talks to her students everyday about being kind to themselves and to others. She feels mental health awareness is important for everyone, especially for her middle school students. Submitted photo2 / 2

Suicide does more than end one life.

It creates a ripple effect throughout a community, as surviving family members and friends experience a range of emotions, including grief, guilt, anger, abandonment, helplessness, denial and shock. It's estimated that between six and 32 survivors exist for every one suicide.

Although she never tried to kill herself, Alissa Haglin, 16, a sophomore at Brainerd High School, is a suicide survivor. Two years ago her best friend, who had been battling depression and mental health issues, locked them both in a classroom during the lunch period and attempted suicide in front of her. Haglin was able to call 911 on her cell phone to alert authorities.

Before this crisis event, there had been many others. Dealing daily with her friend's pain took its toll. Over a two-year period, Haglin's grades dropped. She listened to sad music and suffered from panic attacks.

"I felt her problems were mine to fix and that's all I thought about," Haglin explained.

"It was a parent's nightmare," added her mom, Ellen Haglin.

Alissa Haglin went to counseling and worked hard to move on with her life. She felt alone. But with time, she rediscovered things she enjoyed, like bowfishing with her big brother and working out. She made new friends and entered and won the Miss Jr. Teen Brainerd United States Pageant last year. Her pageant platform was suicide awareness.

Haglin is bringing The Hope Squad, a national suicide prevention program, to Crow Wing County. She is planning to speak to students in the Brainerd School District, and hopes to reach out to other area schools this year with her "End the Stigma" presentation. Her goal is to help students recognize the warning signs of suicide and give them the tools and support to seek help.

"No one wants to talk about it," Haglin said, of suicide. "When you are going through what I went through, you feel alone. You are not alone. One in five people in Minnesota have a mental illness. We need to talk about it."

There are local resources that can help, as well as organizations working on mental health awareness. The Crisis Line and Referral Service, based in Brainerd, will celebrate its 30th year in 2018 as a 24-hour phone line that serves people in Crow Wing, Cass, Aitkin, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties. In 2017 the Crisis Line is projected to answer more than 8,000 phone calls. Most callers are dealing with depression or struggling with a mental health crisis. Most suicide calls occur in the spring and fall, explained Mary Marana, Crisis Line executive director.

"Mental health has a stigma; it's not proper for anyone to have a mental illness. But mental illness is no different than having high blood pressure or diabetes," Marana explained. "We, as a society, need to break that stigma."

The Crisis Line and Referral Service offers a "Make it OK" educational presentation to teach individuals about mental illness to help break the stigma. Crisis Line also offers "Question Persuade Refer (QPR) Training" for community organizations, churches, businesses and school staff to teach individuals how to recognize someone who may be suicidal, how to approach the person, what to say and how to get help. They also offer a five-hour Postvention training course for law enforcement, school administrators, and communities on how to be prepared if a suicide occurs. Each program provides evidenced-based training and offers continuing education credit. Crisis Line also does a suicide prevention program in schools within the six counties it serves.

Crow Wing Energized Mental Fitness Group meets monthly to find ways to build community resilience. Exercises like "Three Good Things" — where a person writes down three positive things at the end of each day for two weeks — and the Gratitude Tree are available.

"Our hope is that it will help people focus on the positives and build resiliency," said Nathan Bertram, Crow Wing Energized Mental Fitness Group chair and supervisor for Adult Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Adult Protection Teams at Crow Wing County Community Services.

Pequot Lakes fifth-grade science teacher Jana Lueck has made mental health awareness an important mission in her life and teaching career, sparked by her own personal tragedy. Ten years ago her husband, John, took his life, leaving behind her and their two daughters, then in seventh and eighth grade.

John Lueck was an outgoing businessman and Pequot Lakes School Board member. His death stunned the Pequot Lakes community, especially those who weren't aware of his private struggles with mental health and chemical dependency. Lueck said the guilt she feels now is that she didn't share with others what they were going through. Like many families in crisis, she thought she could fix it.

"I felt very alone and fighting a battle that was so huge all by myself," she explained.

Now remarried, Lueck said she's found happiness again. While she still has "yuck" in her life, as everyone does, she's learned that being happy is a decision. It's a lesson she shares with her students. They talk daily about being kind to each other and themselves.

"I feel everything that happened to me has brought me to teaching kids to make their lives awesome. That's my purpose," Lueck said with a smile.

In October her eldest daughter is getting married. These family milestones are constant reminders of the hole that remains since John's death. Lueck is walking her daughter down the aisle.

"So many times I have told them their dad would be so proud of them," she said.

SIDEBARS:

September is National Suicide Prevention Month

Ninety percent of those who die by suicide suffered from an underlying mental illness or chemical dependency at the time they died, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Visit www.crowwingenergized.org to find resiliency building tools, like Three Good Things and gratitude letters, which can help strengthen our mental fitness. The website also offers helpful information on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their harmful effects on the physical, emotional and mental health of our community.

Warning Signs of Suicide

• Symptoms of depression, or other brain illnesses

• Suicidal statement or previous attempt, then happier/calmer

• Talking, reading, listening or writing about death/suicide

• Writing will, funeral plans; cleaning house/room/locker/desk

• Giving things away, returning borrowed items, saying goodbye

• Increased use of drugs or alcohol; starting to use

• Sudden interest or disinterest in religion

• Statements of hopelessness; lack of self-esteem

• Withdrawal from friends, family or favorite activities

• Changed eating or sleeping patterns; weight gain/loss, insomnia

• Falling grades, missed deadlines, often tardy or absent

• Irritability, angry outbursts, picking fights

• Acquiring gun; stockpiling pills, obsessed with guns or knives

• Risk-taking behavior or self-harm (cutting, burning)

Don't keep it a secret. For help, call the Crisis Line and Referral Service at 218-828-4357 or 1-800-462-5525. The Crisis Line is answered by trained volunteers 24 hours a day every day. It is an anonymous service and conversations are handled confidentially.

The Crisis Line has about 50 volunteers who answer phones from their own homes. They are always looking for more volunteers. Call 218-828-4515 for information on how to volunteer.

Information provided by the Crisis Line and Referral Service.

TXT4Life, a texting suicide prevention resource, is now available

TXT4Life is a free, 24-hour confidential crisis counseling service offered in Minnesota. TXT4Life allows texters to connect with trained counselors 24 hours a day. The suicide prevention resource for Minnesota residents is funded by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and operated by Canvas Health, a nonprofit community mental health agency. The Crisis Line serves as a regional coordinator.

Nathan Bertram, Crow Wing Energized Mental Fitness Group chair and supervisor for Adult Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Adult Protection Teams at Crow Wing County Community Services, said TXT4Life is a way to reach younger generations who prefer texting instead of talking on the phone.

"It's a good avenue for them. It's how people use technology now," said Bertram.

To text for free confidential help, text "Life" to 61222. Wait for a trained crisis counselor to respond to your text. Respond and start the conversation about what are you concerned about. TXT4Life can help with relationship issues, general mental health and suicide. For more information about TXT4Life, visit www.TXT4Life.org or call 1-866-379-6363.

Save the date...

Fourth annual 5k Run/Walk for Saving Hearts for Suicide Prevention is Oct. 28.

• 9-9:45 a.m. — Registration

• 10:00 a.m. — Run/Walk

• 9-11:30 — Silent Auction

• Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby

The Saving Hearts for Suicide Prevention 5k run/walk was established in 2014 by the Raph Family in honor of their loved one Shane Heyn.

All proceeds from this event will go to the Crisis Line and Referral Service (CLRS) to provide an outlet for those in need. CLRS also goes to 19 schools in 6 surrounding counties so that students can learn about depression and the alternatives to suicide.

"The person who completes suicide, dies once. Those left behind die a thousand deaths, trying to relive those terrible moments and understand...Why"? -Clark

This means that the act of suicide can cause a ripple effect, dispersing pain and grief among the survivors. When someone takes their own life, the act may cause other people to become deeply saddened and depressed. Essentially many of the emotions that that person experienced while depressed get passed on to remaining survivors. This is why coming together to bring awareness is important.

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