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Group aims to lower county suicide rates

Pictured from left,Carol Jones Gail Buell, Kimberly McDonald and Kristen Newton are at a meeting of the St. Croix County Suicide Prevention Task Force. Although "St. Croix County" is in the title, the group members have stressed that the task force is not officially affiliated with the county.1 / 2
The St. Croix County Suicide Prevention Task Force is preparing trainings to help people learn how to prevent suicides from happening. Pictured (from left) are Kesha Marson, Kristen Newton, Kimberly McDonald, Gary Christian, Bill Stuessel, Sonya Affolter, Pat Everson, Carol Lebo, Mary and Milford Simonds, Carol Jones and Gail Buell.2 / 2

After watching the St. Croix County suicide rate grow from no suicides in 2007 to 18 in 2011, St. Croix County Medical Examiner Patty Schachtner and St. Croix Conty Adult Community support Services social worker Kesha Marson both decided action needed to be taken.

The two women worked together to form what they describe as a grassroots organization, dedicated to preventing suicide in St. Croix County. Schachtner said the group began with several phone calls from suicide survivors, or people who have experienced the suicide death of a loved one. She brought those people together and the group's progress "snowballed" from there, Schachtner said.

"It just kind of took on a life of its own," Scachtner said. "Kesha and I may have had an idea, but the people in the county... really are taking over this group and that's the way it was meant to be."

The St. Croix County Suicide Prevention Task Force is still getting off the ground. Schachtner said the group is working toward attaining nonprofit status. But, she said, the group is already moving ahead toward their goal of preventing suicides in St. Croix County.

The group is offering a QPR training (Question, Persuade, Refer) on April 24, from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the New Richmond Community Commons.

QPR training teaches people to recognize suicide risk factors in the people around them, as well as how to talk to someone who might be contemplating suicide.

Marson said one of the things QPR training teaches people to do is to ask "Are you having thoughts of killing yourself?" She said asking the question can be vital to suicide prevention.

"It's those unasked questions that can lead to tragedy," Marson said. "Not asking the question can obviously have devastating results."

In addition to the upcoming community QPR training, the St. Croix County Suicide Prevention Taskforce is hoping to be able to hold QPR trainings for local schools, and would like to encourage local businesses to have QPR trainings done at their places of business.

Schachtner said for every 13 people trained in QPR, one suicide is prevented.

"We'd like to see the suicide rate go down," Schachtner said. "What we do have control over is how... we teach people to recognize when a suicide crisis might be happening. Then we have the opportunity to intervene."

Marson said some warning signs that someone might be contemplating suicide include actually saying "I wish I was dead," or "I'm going to commit suicide." She said there are also behavioral cues, such as buying a gun when a person doesn't normally hunt, someone putting their final affairs in order, giving away prized possessions and increased drug or alcohol use.

"Kind of any unexplained change in behavior, anger, aggression, irritability," Marson said.

If there is an immediate risk, Marson said it is important to call 911. She also said people who think a friend of loved one is at risk of suicide can encourage that person to get help.

Schachtner said people who commit suicide don't really want to die, but feel driven to it by a sense of hopelessness.

"At the end of the day, that's the message that we want to get out," Schachtner said, "that we don't want anyone it St. Croix County to feel like there's no hope or feel like we don't care, because we do."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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