This week, we celebrated National Suicide Prevention Week. While many Americans refuse to acknowledge the pressures faced by today’s youth, the fact remains that our young people are growing up in a time riddled with social pitfalls and a vast flood of social media and news that cannot be easily filtered or shut off. While adults recount how tough we had it and just how stern our parents were, we seldom faced growing gun violence in schools, bullying and racial/ethnic attack via social media, or the sadness of a dissolved family. Due to the overwhelming influx of toxic stress, youth look for a way to express their angst and unhappiness. At times, this expression is made manifest through substance abuse, violence, and sex. Other times, youth turn inwards and start to contemplate suicide. This tragic situation is why some Renville County schools decided to address the issue of suicide. Not only has such loss been felt in our own towns, but in neighboring towns and schools as well. In fact, it has become a nationwide epidemic felt by every community.
The RAPAD Coalition recognizes that suicide issues are not subsiding. The coalition was established over a decade ago to address the issues of substance abuse in Renville County. Realizing that these are but symptoms of underlying causes, the coalition has worked to change the community and take stock of the problems youth face each day. A step towards making Renville County suicide resilient understands that thoughts culminating in suicide ideation are planted as seeds via toxic stress and hopelessness. Rather than accepting the problem and dealing with the consequences, our community seeks out educational opportunities, better support networks, and efforts that provide youth with a safe place to turn when they begin to question their self-worth.
PACT for Families Collaborative also recognizes this epidemic. As an organization whose mission is to strengthen families and youth, PACT conducts a survey of 17 school districts throughout its 5 county catchment area (Kandiyohi, Meeker, McLeod, Yellow Medicine, and Renville Counties). Students in grades 5, 7, 9 and 11 are polled annually in an effort to take stock of the stresses they face, how they feel about their relationships with family, friends, and school personnel, and how they deal with issues like substance use, childhood trauma, sex, and mental health. In 2017, nearly 26% of youth in grades 7, 9, and 11 said that they considered suicide in the past 12 months. Of that 26%, over a third of them reported attempting suicide at least once. Amongst the 802 youth that took the survey, 80 felt that their life was not worth living.
Thankfully, the RCW School District and the ministerial collaborating with BLHS school district heard the call to action and decided to hold two special events on their premises between 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm on Sunday and Monday nights respectively. These events drew in a community-wide crowd who heard the messages on suicide and how to spot the risk factors. The events were a strong beginning in the conversation to remind our kids that they are miracles and we as adults have a responsibility to protect, mentor, and love them. These events are the beginning of spreading the message that this issue needs to be addressed. Youth need to know that we will listen to them, assuring them that communities will work together to provide an opportunity to grow up safely and build a life of their own. Thank you to all who made these two events possible. You are helping strengthen individuals, families, and communities in Renville County.
Annie Tepfer, RAPAD Coalition Coordinator and Joe Maffit, PACT For Families Evaluator