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'Are you OK?' — a stand-up comic's take on mental health

The loss of life by suicide has become all too familiar a story across St. Croix County.

In 2011 statewide, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 792 suicide deaths, 18 of which occurred in St. Croix County.

Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65. Among the veteran population, suicide rates have increased from 18 veterans per day to 22 veterans per day according to the Department of Veteran Affairs 2012 Suicide Data Report. Today, the frequency of suicide deaths among veterans is higher than those being killed in combat overseas.

Things aren’t always as they seem when it comes to those who are considering suicide and that is the story that stand-up comic and mental health activist Kevin Breel will tell when he appears at “Are You OK?,” a free community event at New Richmond High School on Monday, April 6.

Breel’s presentation is designed to inspire and empower his audience with a message of help and hope. “The world I believe in is one where embracing your light doesn’t mean ignoring your dark.”

Breel has been a TED Talk presenter and has been featured on MTV and in the Huffington Post where he talks about his public persona and his very different personal reality and what it is like living as a depressed person. View Breel’s TED Talk at

Breel’s appearance is made possible by the Suicide Prevention Task Force of St. Croix County in a joint initiative with the St. Croix County Drug Prevention Coalition. The master of ceremonies for the evening is Missy Germain.

The Suicide Prevention Task Force is a grassroots coalition founded in July of 2012, and is comprised of area mental health providers, health care providers, school representatives, community members, law enforcement representatives, and veterans’ organizations.

This task force, whose members are all volunteers, is committed to helping St. Croix County community members who may be affected by mental health concerns specifically that of suicide.

According to Kesha Marson who with others founded the group, the task force aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental health concerns, inform community members about the impact and frequency of suicide deaths in the area in an effort to promote intervention and reduce suicide deaths, improve access to mental health resources, empower citizens to deal with the threat of suicide through educational experiences, identify and address mental health challenges that face our communities, and educate the public on unique mental health challenges faced by the veteran community, as well as building awareness of available resources for veterans and their families.

To date, the Suicide Prevention Task Force has been active in local communities on a variety of levels. The goal of the task force is to promote awareness and prevention of suicide and address mental health issues, along with reducing stigma so often times attached to both.

Other accomplishments include:

• Developing a partnership with the Mental Health Task Force of Polk County as a part of the Garrett Lee Smith Grant, a federal grant aimed at youth suicide prevention.

• Educational booths at St. Croix County Fair and Halos Hudson events to provide educational resources to community members.

• The training of over 6,000 community members in QPR/Suicide Prevention Trainings including school districts in St. Croix and Pierce counties, business agencies, churches, mental health agencies and veterans organizations.

• “Back of the Door” campaign; posters placed in bathroom stalls at St. Croix County Fair to spread awareness and provide resource number to those contemplating suicide.

• Restricted Access to Lethal Means campaign and the distribution of free gun locks to community members in an effort to address the rising use of firearms in suicide deaths.

• Development of collaborative partnership with the New Richmond VFW Post 10818 in an effort to address the increase in veteran suicides in St. Croix County.

• Development of collaborative partnership with St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program to continue to provide support to those who have experienced a suicide death.

• Award of the Suicide Awareness Week Grant through Mental Health America of Wisconsin with the funds used to host the first Hope 5K run/walk held last fall in conjunction with the New Richmond VFW Post 10818 Car Show.

• Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative aimed at addressing youth suicide in all middle and high schools throughout county on the back of bathroom stall doors.

“Are You OK?” begins at 6:30 p.m. in the New Richmond High School auditorium at 650 Richmond Way. For more information about the Suicide Prevention Task Force of St. Croix County, email

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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