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1-800-273-TALK - Combating suicide

Owatonna Peoples Press - 6/23/2018

OWATONNA - The deaths of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade earlier this month spotlight the importance of recognizing suicide as a public health issue.

There is already a rise in suicide rates in the nation, increasing more than 25 percent since 1999. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in 2015, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide rates are also rising worldwide, with some 1 million people dying annually from suicide. The World Health Organization estimates a global suicide rate of one death every 40 seconds, which by 2020 they predict will increase to one in every 20 seconds.

With statistics like that glaring in the public's face, it's hard not to become alarmed. What has come to startle people even more, however, is the continuous assertion that these recent celebrities were happy.

"Jacob wasn't depressed," Robert Sikel said very matter-of-fact. "It shows it can really happen to anyone."

In a little over a month, Sikel, who lives in rural Claremont, will be faced with the six-year anniversary of the hardest day of his life: the day his 15-year-old son, Jacob, took his own life. Since then, Sikel made it his personal mission to ensure that no other parent will have to go through the same ordeal. To achieve this goal, he travels around the region speaking to schools and other audiences as a part of the Open Arms Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program.

Though Sikel has devoted his life to educating the public on the warning signs of suicide, he asserts that his son showed none. According to Sikel, Jacob had taken five times the recommended dose of Adderall, a stimulant medication that is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adults that Jacob did not have a prescription for. Sikel added that coming down from an "Adderall high" is considered worse than coming down from heroine, and he believes this crash contributed to Jacob's death.

"There is the depression side, and I get that," he stated. "Hindsight is 20/20, but not every suicide shows the signs."

"Go check on your friends," said Amber Ayers, who lost her 15-year-old cousin, Lizzy, to suicide in 2016 and then started an awareness group to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness shortly after. "Just because they're happy doesn't mean they aren't struggling on the inside."

"A lot of times I really feel like the people who you don't think have issues are the ones who struggle the hardest," she continued. "They're trying to put on this front that they're OK and they're trying to be the strong person for everyone else that they forget to take care of themselves."

Ayers, who admits to having her own struggles with mental health, states that's it's important to reach out to people and care for one another, especially in a times where suicide seems to have been thrust into the spotlight.

"I think people are becoming a lot more comfortable talking about it. It's become a lot less taboo, though there's still stigma associated with it," Ayers said about starting a conversation with someone about suicide and mental illness. "It's an unfortunate way to start the conversation, but at least it gets people talking."

"Adults don't think they need any help," Sikel added, stating that Open Arms has tried to reach out to more adults throughout the years, but have had little success. "But you have to talk about it to prevent."

Both Ayers and Sikel agree that one of the most important ways to promote suicide prevention is to make the resources available known to the public. Other than Open Arms, which Sikel says operates as a link between someone in crisis and the correct help, there are multiple resources in southern Minnesota.

The Crisis Response for Southeast Minnesota covers a 10-county region, including Steele, Waseca, and Dodge counties. Ayers said that she has used this resource herself, stating that it feels like "calling your best friend."

"It doesn't feel like they are reading from a script," she stated. "You can actually sense their concern and compassion."

Ayers said that through their mobile units, Crisis Response is able to send someone within the surrounding area directly to a person in a state of crisis.

South Central Human Relationship Center, which has locations in Owatonna, Waseca, and Kasson, provides a variety of community-based programs that deal directly with mental illness. These programs include Adult Rehabilitation Mental Health Services and Assertive Community Treatment. They also have a 24/7 crisis line at 1-844-274-7472.

A particular, nationwide service that Minnesota began offering this spring is one that Sikel specifically views as extremely important for teenagers and young adults. As of April 1, 2018, the state joined the national nonprofit Crisis Text Line. People who text "MN" to the number 741741 will be connected to a trained counselor who will offer help and connect an individual to resources in their communities. The texting service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and is available to the entire state. The average wait time for a response is 39 seconds.

Prior to the Crisis Text Line, Minnesota was served by the similar service Txt4Life, though this program was only available in 54 of the 87 counties in the state.

There is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline provides free and confidential support year-round for people in suicidal crisis or distress. The service includes a military and veterans option. For crisis support in Spanish, people can call 1-888-628-9454.

There is also a suicide prevention counseling service for the LGBTQ community called TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386.

"You don't have to put it all out there, but it's about just knowing where to turn," Ayers said about being aware of the resources available. "It makes it easier if you have multiple resources. Having options is really important and knowing it's there."

"People feel like no one cares and that they are more of a burden," Sikel said. "But it is so opposite."


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