CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. – September 16, 2015 -The Minnesota National Guard hosted two suicide prevention fun runs at Camp Ripley and Arden Hills Army Training Site, September 12-13, to raise awareness and establish a renewed emphasis on preventing suicide. The events focused on the ‘Power of One,’ or the ability of one person to make a difference and save a life.
“It’s the power of that one person – you – just to make that simple act of asking, of reaching out and letting that veteran or that Service member, neighbor, loved one or family member, know that they’re not alone,” said Maj. Ron Jarvi, Minnesota National Guard Resilience, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention program manager.
Over the last eight years, the Minnesota National Guard has had the highest rate of suicide ideation, averaging five suicides per year. In the last eight years, 40 Minnesota National Guardsmen decided their only option was a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
“Life is too precious to allow temporary problems to become so overwhelming that one believes there are no alternatives,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Douglas Wortham, Minnesota National Guard Senior Enlisted Advisor. “I’m here today to tell you there are alternatives. I’m here to tell you – regardless of the situation – tomorrow will bring new opportunities. I’m here to tell you, I care.”
This past weekend the Minnesota National Guard also premiered a new suicide prevention video titled, “I’m Only Human.” The video is meant to challenge perceptions about how to handle risk factors for suicide and illustrates how protective factors can enhance resilience and contribute to a meaningful life. “I’m Only Human” reminds Service members that not only is it okay to reach out for help, it is a sign of strength to recognize a problem and accept help from others.
“Although we are only human, together we can save those in need by being aware of indicators and knowing the available resources,” said Wortham. “Together we can support those in need by reinforcing the strength that is demonstrated in reaching out and seeking help.
Together we can assist those in need to find an alternative solution to a temporary problem. Together, we can protect our most precious resource – our people.”
Prior to the run at Arden Hills, Janet Benz, whose son, Christopher, died by suicide at age 17, shared her story as a survivor of suicide. With a background in clinical care, nursing and hospice, Benz thought that she was equipped to recognize the warning signs of suicide.
Through the Christopher Benz Foundation, she now works with Minnesota communities to raise awareness about preventing suicide in teenagers and young adults.
“Decades of dealing with grief and loss could not prepare me for the loss of my son to suicide,” said Benz. “Never in a million years would I have thought that I would end up losing a child to suicide. I hope that by sharing our story that the warning signs of suicide will be on your radar and that you’ll be more prepared to help save a life.”
Those gathered also heard from Jamie Tworkowski, author of the bestseller “If You Feel Too Much” and founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit organization dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. Tworkowski likened seeking help for mental illness to seeking help for physical ailments such as a sprained ankle. He suggested that just as there is no stigma in seeking help for a physical injury or illness, there should be no stigma in seeking help for mental ailments.
“The brain is part of the body and for some reason as a society we don’t approach it the same way. But what if we talked about mental health and we talked about suicide prevention the exact same way that we talk about broken arms and sprained ankles?”
Participants in the runs were able to connect with resources and organizations in their local communities that can provide assistance. Along the route of the 5k run, runners stopped at stations designed to help them identify risk factors, warning signs and protective factors of suicide. For many of those gathered, the event was a welcome change from annual PowerPoint presentations on suicide prevention.
“I implore you ask for help if you need it, offer help to those in need and do everything you can to eliminate suicides in our National Guard,” said Wortham.