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Third Annual Suicide Prevention Week Builds Awareness


Peder Aalgaard | Staff Writer | 12-03-2012

Bemidji State University held its third year of Suicide Prevention Week. While this is normally held in September, organizing this sort of event has been difficult at the beginning of the year, which is why it was moved to November.

Suicide Prevention Week is made up of events every day of the week meant to help students become more aware of the facts about suicide, learn ways to recognize warning signs, and be informed about different help centers they can access for themselves or others.

The BSU Student Center for Health and Counseling, Lifestyle Educators, and the Beltrami Area Suicide Prevention Program originally started and sponsored the week’s events. This year saw involvement from more on-campus groups in the planning process. Groups like the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, the psychology club, the Campus Activity Board, the Lutheran Center and the Newman Center all contributed. Some professors even offered extra credit to their students who attended. This helped improve turnout at different events and helped inform more students.

Suicide prevention is a serious concern for Beltrami County. Even now, Beltrami continues to have high rates of suicide compared to other Minnesota counties. Consequently, a task force has been formed named the Headwaters Alliance for Suicide Prevention. It began in 2005 to address these numbers.

Later on, the Beltrami Suicide Prevention Program was created from the task force which has a full-time position dedicated to suicide prevention education and awareness coordination. BSU has partnered with this group, as have other individuals and agencies in the Bemidji area. All of them are dedicated toward eliminating suicide.

The week’s events were largely dedicated to informing students about the facts of suicide and what students’ roles are in prevention. Professor of psychology Dr. Russell Lee, LP Emeritus, gave a presentation that featured statistics and information about suicide to give students an understanding of the causes and frequency of suicide. Lee also talked about some of his time spent working for a suicide prevention hotline. He related how his view of suicide changed during his time spent with the hotline.

If he and his co-workers lost a caller, they would rationalize it by saying it was that person’s choice to take his or her life. When they were faced with a co-worker’s suicide, Dr. Lee realized that he could not just let someone make that decision, that suicide should not be the solution to someone’s mental illness or problems, no matter how severe. His presentation outlined different risk factors, including environmental, social and cultural risks.

Stephanie Downey, the suicide prevention coordinator for Beltrami County, also gave a presentation with information on how to support people who may be suicidal and to debunk myths about suicide. Her goal was to make sure students could be “gatekeepers,” people who are aware of the signs and know what to do if they run into a situation involving a friend, relative, or someone they might see on a regular basis.

She recommended students look and listen for clues and warning signs, initiate help, network with local resources and keep in touch. She tried to make it clear that suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.

Both programs also wanted to stress that talking about suicide does not increase the chances of it happening. If there is concern that someone is suicidal, it is important to talk about it and locate help as soon as possible. “Ask about suicide if you feel that someone might be having thoughts,” Downey said. “Be a link to support.”

Students can call the BSU Student Center for Health and Counseling for on campus support as well as a local mobile crisis team at 1-800-422-0045. The national prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).