By: Anna Landsverk
Sunday, Sept. 10 marks the 15th anniversary of World Suicide Prevention Day. Over the years, people have become more willing to discuss suicide prevention and mental health, but the stigma around the topic is still an issue on campuses and in communities nationwide.
To bring light to the issues of mental health and suicide, people in the Fargo-Moorhead area are taking action.
This week at MSUM, the Hendrix Wellness Educators handed out neon yellow wristbands to students and dotted the campus lawn with signs encouraging people to wear the color in support or memory of loved ones who have attempted suicide.
“[On my bracelet] I wrote ‘choose love and joy,’” Wellness Educator Jessica Colby said, adding,
“I’ve seen a lot of people actually writing down someone that they know who committed suicide or attempted. And just sitting there and watching that—it’s very hard to watch it, but you know that they are basically wanting to support the people who are struggling now.”
In the larger community, FirstLink and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are joining panel discussions and hosting awareness walks, respectively, to honor the day. Other groups are participating in training and events around the Fargo-Moorhead area.
“The Out of the Darkness Walk by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has gotten to be such a big event, and really just raises a lot of awareness, along with some of the events that the schools do,” FirstLink Training and Education Coordinator Ashley Ladbury Hrichena said. “We [FirstLink] often get requests just from small businesses or organizations that just want some handouts or information from us for this week, so I know there’s a lot of people who are, you know, honoring suicide prevention week without necessarily a huge event where hundreds of people come and it makes the news.”
The Wellness Educators co-sponsored the “13 Reasons Why” panel at MSUM with Hendrix, the Women’s Center and the Veterans Resource Center. The speakers included not only faculty and staff, but also community members and students who shared their own personal experiences.
“I really liked the diversity amongst the people on the panel, and having some people there with lived experience too I think was really powerful as well,” Ladbury Hrichena said. “I think it really helps to destigmatize the topic when people are willing to share like that.”
The room was packed, and those involved were happy with the turnout and engagement. This year in particular, the Wellness Educators wanted to do something addressing mental health directly.
“I think we put more emphasis on this one, especially with the panel, because ‘13 Reasons Why’ came out,” Colby said. “Personally, when I watched it, I thought it was intriguing in the reactions to it and my own personal reaction to it.”
She also said that even when people were unable to finish watching the show because it was too much, it still gave people a way to talk about the issues of suicide and mental health without discussing their own lives if they weren’t comfortable in doing so.
Going forward, there are other opportunities to engage with mental health issues, whether to get information and support or to help others in the area. Here are just a few:
- Call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for emergencies, or call the local lifeline number at 701-235-7335 for any mental health or stress concerns.
The local number is answered by mental health professionals right here in Fargo that can provide support for accessing financial assistance, emotional care and plenty of other resources for lowering stress and improving your health.
- Walk in to Hendrix for on-the-spot counseling.
“It’s not like you have to set an appointment,” Wellness Educator Tunmi Anwoju said. “Now it’s just better, because you can just walk in and talk to someone, and they’re professionals.”
- Follow social media channels on mental health and suicide prevention training.
Social media can be a great way of finding out how to support people with a mental illness or with suicidal thoughts, as well as to stay educated on such an important subject.
- Make an appointment with graduate student counselors in Lommen.
“Even just processing through stressful situations, whether it’s ‘I have a ton of exams coming up and I don’t know if I’m going to handle all of that,’ is just really good at helping people process that information,” Wellness Educator Jenai DeNardo said. “Just being able to hear ‘It’s a natural cause and here are some coping mechanisms for you to use’ [helps].”
- Attend a peer support group meeting, held every Monday at 5 p.m. by MSUM student Bailey Schumann.
“She has done amazing things with her own organization, which is pretty cool,” Colby said. “It’s insane that one person has made that successful thing.”
- Sign up for a training session through organizations like FirstLink.
These organizations can offer comprehensive one- to two-day training sessions on being sensitive to issues of suicide, spotting the signs of someone in trouble, working through emotional issues and more.
- Share stories of others on social media.
“Just sharing the stories of others I think is really powerful too,” Ladbury Hrichena said. “Statistics can be really powerful and kind of shock people, but I think when you start to realize that it’s your coworkers and your family and your friends, that those are some of the people who struggle, I think that’s really what helps to break the stigma.”
- Participate in Out of the Darkness on Sept. 10.
There are also fundraisers, awareness campaigns and other events that raise awareness and funds to support people struggling with mental health issues.
- Share your story, if you can.
“[It helps] if someone has a personal story they feel comfortable sharing,” Ladbury Hrichena said. “I think that one of the most powerful things that people can do to kind of break that stigma about suicide and mental health is to share their own personal story when they feel comfortable and ready to do that. Sometimes it takes people time, and that’s okay.”
For the community, it is all about continuing education and acknowledging mental health and suicide risk.
“I think it’s a topic or area that people have always been aware of, but because of the stigma they didn’t want to talk about it,” Ladbury Hrichena said. “Whereas I think now, that stigma is starting to lessen. So people are becoming more aware about it, but they’re also starting to recognize that it’s okay to talk about it, and not only that, but we should talk about it—we have to talk about it if we want to save people’s lives.”