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Paynesville Press - April 30, 2003

Paynesville schools launch suicide prevention program

By Michael Jacobson

Agony. Horror.

The meaning of these words hit home to Rachel Schott the executive director for the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program in Minnesota when she was awakened by a phone call in the middle of the night and learned that her 15-year-old brother, a high school sophomore, had committed suicide.

Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Cards Following that tragedy in Mankato, Schott's family and another family of a teenager who committed suicide brought the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program to Minnesota. Schott recently spoke to the high school and middle school student bodies in Paynesville, bringing the suicide prevention message to local students, teachers, and members of the community.

Yellow Ribbon cards with the message at left were distributed to students at Paynesville Area Middle School and Paynesville Area High School this month, but they are intended for anyone suffering from depression and having suicidal thoughts. The card is a cry for help, and anyone who is given one should stay with that person, listen to them, and get help.

"Suicide is not about death. Suicide is not about being weak. Suicide is not about being crazy," said Schott. "It's about a pain that is so horrible, so unrelenting that death appears to be the only way out. What we need to do is tell them that suicide is not the way out."

"It's okay to ask for help," Schott added.

Depression, a primary cause of suicide, is really a physical disease, like diabetes, explained Schott. Just as diabetics lack insulin to manage their blood sugar levels, people who suffer from depression lack a chemical in their brain. Depression is a treatable, physical illness, stressed Schott.

In her brother's case, they did not recognize the symptoms until after he had committed suicide, leaving her family devastated.

The Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Campaign was actually started by a couple in Colorado whose son had committed suicide, according to Schott. When his friends asked what they could do to help, his mother told them to never do it themselves and to call her, anytime, if they ever thought about it.

Soon, a family friend typed this message, which they decorated with a yellow ribbon for the funeral.

Soon the cards had made their way to Wyoming, and now millions of cards are in circulation in all 50 states and more than 50 countries, said Schott.

The card is meant to be a lifeline, a silent cry for help by someone who might not be able to put their thoughts into words. Anyone who is handed a Yellow Ribbon Card whether a parent, friend, teacher, or minister should stay with the person, listen to them, and get help if needed. In emergency situations, call the 24-hour suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE or call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room.

"I wish my brother had been given a Yellow Ribbon Card before he died," Schott told the Paynesville students, "because maybe he'd be here today."

School counselor Jackie Campbell had several peer helpers from the high school attend a Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program last spring, and they all decided that it was something that they should bring to Paynesville. The cards can be used by students or adults. Suicide is also a leading cause of death among the senior citizens.

Senior Sarah Massman thinks the programs at school had impact with the students due to Schott's personal experience with suicide. Massman helped Campbell with introducing the Yellow Ribbon program here "cause if I ever want help I hope that someone is there to help me," she said.

According to the 2001 Minnesota Student Survey, 40 percent of ninth grade girls and 42 percent of senior girls had had suicidal thoughts. A quarter of the boys in grades six, nine, and 12 had also had suicidal thoughts.

A teen suicide in the community would be devastating, said Campbell. "Suicide has touched my life, so I realize how painful it is," she explained. "And suicide is so preventable among teens that if we save one life then it was worthwhile."

While there have not been any suicides at the local schools in recent years, there have been suicides in the community.

Pastor Dave Nelson of Paynesville Lutheran Church, one of the community guests who attended the training session at school, thinks the program is excellent and that the Yellow Ribbon cards can be a great tool to help. "I think it's an issue that important for the whole community. People need to be aware of it, and they need to talk about it," he said.

As a minister and as a person who has been touched personally by suicide, Nelson said he knows that suicide is never the answer, since the pain to the family is so devastating. He also empathizes with anyone suffering from depression, especially with the stigma that too often surrounds mental illness.

The whole community needs to be ready to hear cries for help, said Nelson. "It's programs like this that help break through those barriers," he added.

Anyone in need of professional counseling can seek help from their minister, from the school, or from their health care provider. Anyone in need of immediate intervention should call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room.

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