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Area students attend suicide prevention training

Pine Journal - 12/21/2018

Dec. 20--Sam Ammesmaki, a sophomore at Fond du Lac Ojibwe High School in Cloquet, said his life has been touched by suicide. The games at the "Students Offering Support" suicide prevention conference help students relax and open up instead of staying silent, he explained.

"It builds a bond, the way we're all getting together," Ammesmaki said. "If I don't know them, why would I talk to them? If we have a fun time trying to break the ice, break the barriers to becoming acquaintances, then it works."

Students, teachers and community leaders from across Carlton County gathered for the second annual SOS conference Friday, Dec. 14, at Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet.

Approximately 40 students from eight schools attended the conference, sponsored by the REACH Mentoring program in Cloquet. REACH connects youth and adults for mentoring programs in the county.

The group also worked with local students to establish SOS after the "Text 4 Life" program ended in Carlton County. "Text 4 Life" helped people in crisis reach out anonymously and be connected to mental health professionals. It was replaced in April by the "Crisis Text Line," which provides a similar service.

Students alternated Friday among workshops focusing on suicide and substance abuse prevention, conversations about mental health and team-building activities.

Carlton County Public Health educator Tina Nelson spoke about what can cause suicidal thoughts, factors indicating someone in crisis and how to approach someone who may be in crisis.

Nelson highlighted "active listening" when trying to talk to someone who may be in a mental health crisis. She advised the students not to ask why someone is considering suicide or compliment them. Instead, simply be there to listen.

"We don't really know how to listen anymore with phones, social media and other distractions," Nelson said. "Listen to their story -- they have a story to tell."

REACH Executive Director Dakota Koski explained that it's important to discuss mental health in schools due to its stigma.

"Everybody has mental health; not everybody has a mental illness," he said. "So we're trying to educate the students about what the difference is and that there is not a stigma attached to talking about mental health. Our groups focus on building protective factors -- building good mental health -- working with coping skills, resiliency and essentially building those protective factors in students."

The REACH program meets weekly with students, who can be both mentors and mentees, and focuses on building relationships. The goal, Koski said, is to create an open, honest relationship between students and mentors so those students feel they have somewhere to turn during a crisis.

About the Crisis Text Line

To connect with a mental health professional in Minnesota, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, text "Text MN" to 741741.

For more information about the Crisis Text Line, go to crisistextline.org.

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(c)2018 The Pine Journal (Cloquet, Minn.)

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