Even though the challenge may seem insurmountable, awareness brings about change. It is to this cause that the Fifth Annual Suicide Awareness Memorial Walk will be held October 12 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carlton.
The subject matter is heartbreaking. However, heartache is more bearable when shared.
“We are aware that Carlton County, and may other counties in Northern Minnesota, have some of the highest rates of suicide in the state,” said Meghann Condit, Health Educator for Carlton County Public Health and Human Services. “This event allows family and friends who have been impacted by suicide to remember those they have lost, as well as connect with others who have had the same, or a similar, experience.”
At present, there is no data for why suicide rates tend to be higher in northern Minnesota counties.
“Suicide is hard to study in that way,” said Condit. “The leading causes for suicide attempts are a previous suicide attempt and undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues.
“In knowing we have a high rate, and knowing some of the leading causes, we are working to implement prevention systems to steer people toward help.”
The walk is non-competitive. It is meant simply to raise public awareness.
The Suicide Awareness Memorial Walk was organized by members of the Carlton County Suicide Prevention Task Force. Jo Angell is a mother who experienced the loss of her son to suicide. She has been involved with the local Carlton County Suicide Prevention Task Force since its beginning.
“This walk has been an important focus and connection for me,” said Angell. “It has been very helpful to have a special day where people come together, supporting each other and walking in remembrance of our loved ones; publicly stating the seriousness of suicide. We’re all there for the same reason.”
The event is not a fundraiser.
“We decided not to make this walk a fundraiser because we want people to feel like they can come honor the memory of their loved one without any strings attached,” said Condit. “We want it to be an event where they can honor their loved ones, connect with others who have had similar experiences, and raise awareness for prevention. We have taken donations in the past, which we have put toward suicide prevention activities in the county and region, but do not ask for, or require, those donations.”
The event is supported by a federal grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) called TXT4Life.
“TXT4Life has worked with the Minnesota affiliate of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) to add texting capabilities to their call center,” said Condit. “Text counselors answer texts from youth and young adults who are in a suicidal crisis by simply listening to their needs, providing counseling, and referring them to local resources.
“TXT4Life has become an extension of our mental health system; a bridge to services such as school linked mental health, crisis response teams, and/or services that otherwise may not have been accessed.”
Additional information on suicide awareness, suicide education and TXT4Life will be available at the Memorial Walk on October 12. The walk (about 35 minutes) will be followed by refreshments and a short educational/remembrance presentation by Angie Cook, a local Parent Survivor.
According to Condit, participants of the Memorial Walk typically include people from the local area, as well as some from neighboring counties and around the state. They are family members, friends, human service and mental health workers, and many others whose lives have been affected by suicide or an attempt.
Participants may wear something with the name of picture of the person they are honoring. They will also have the opportunity to tie a ribbon on the banner that will be carried on the walk in memory of their loved one.
“In raising awareness to the public,” said Condit, “we have more people who are educated in looking for the warning signs of suicide and becoming more ready, willing, and able to help someone who might be in crisis.
“We are working to reduce the stigma so that people who are in crisis feel like they can reach out for help without criticism. Suicide is the most preventable kind of death, so, by educating and training the community, we have more people knowing that they can help in the time of a crisis.”
For more information, call Meghann Condit at (218) 879-4511.