Crow Wing Energized: A new, nationwide strategy for suicide prevention using a public health model

Across central Minnesota and the Brainerd lakes area, the St. Cloud VA suicide prevention team is at work engaging individual Veterans and building networks of supporters in our communities. Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and VA is playing a lead role in ending suicide among veterans and all Americans.

Across central Minnesota and the Brainerd lakes area, the St. Cloud VA suicide prevention team is at work engaging individual Veterans and building networks of supporters in our communities. While every member of the St. Cloud VA team contributes to this effort by delivering a range of services to veterans who are at risk of suicide, including same-day urgent mental health services and other resources, we can’t do it alone.

We know that most veterans who die by suicide aren’t currently receiving VA care at the time of their death, and this is our challenge: How do we reach all Veterans when not all our veterans are using VA?

The answer is that we must energize the communities where these veterans live; to create connections and strengthen the bonds between those who are at risk, and the people and groups that can support them. In the VA Midwest Health Care Network we’ve been piloting this approach for nearly two years, and now a model like ours has been adopted nationally in the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide or PREVENTS, which focuses on a holistic public health approach to suicide prevention.

PREVENTS is a nationwide effort that seeks to educate everyone on how to identify anyone, to include our veterans that may be struggling with thoughts of suicide, and how to talk to them about getting help. It might be as simple as having a conversation between the veteran, family members or friends, or it may mean letting them know about the available resources they can access locally.


Brent A. Thelen.jpg
Brent A. Thelen

PREVENTS also envisions a nationwide network of faith-based organizations, non- governmental organizations, companies, schools and local, state and federal programs that our veterans and every member of the community can access, if desired. In pursuit of this vision we’ve dedicated a community engagment partnership coordinator to team up with local groups across the region like Crow Wing Energized and the Long Prairie Wellness Mental Health Group, among others, in order to engage resources to help veterans and the community.

At its core, PREVENTS is about changing the culture of this country, and removing the stigma that exists today about talking about mental health and emotional well-being.

PREVENTS is aimed at helping anyone that may be at risk. It’s clear that suicide is a societal issue and not just a veteran issue:

On average, 132 Americans die by suicide each day; accounting for 47,173 suicide deaths in 2017.

The number of veteran suicides has exceeded 6,000 each year from 2008-2017.

Suicide is also the 10th leading cause of death among all ages, and the second leading cause of death among those ages 10-34 in the United States.


To create awareness across the nation and unite local networks, the REACH campaign was launched to remind everyone that they can make a difference by learning how to connect with those at risk.

Nobody knows better than you how to talk with people in your family, your neighborhood, or your workplace. Effective suicide prevention relies on connections between people and groups. That’s what has been missing, and that’s what will have the biggest impact in preventing suicide.

To learn more about REACH, visit . Get involved. Take the pledge. Stay informed. REACH your family, friends, community, and our veterans. As you encounter our veterans, please share the local and national points of care that are available to them:

The Brainerd VA Clinic offers routine mental health services, including individual and group therapy; medication management; and psychological assessment and testing. Please encourage Veterans to use these services as part of their regular pursuit of whole health.

Veterans concerned about mental health issues can receive same-day services from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center in Bldg. 111. The Urgent Care Clinic in Bldg. 1 is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. 365 days a year. Veterans can call a VA Nurse at 320-252-1670, Press 3, 24 hours a day.

Veterans with thoughts of suicide or harming themselves or others should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, Press 1; text to 838255; chat online at ; or call 911 or go to the closest community hospital emergency department.

Most importantly, every one of us can #BeThere for veterans, and our families and friends. Suicide is preventable — but only if we empower ourselves and others with the knowledge, tools and resources we need to reach those who feel hopeless.


What To Read Next
Get Local