Imagine a suicide-safer community. That’s what one organization is working to achieve within North Dakota communities.
“Don’t think anyone is someone who couldn’t be thinking of suicide,” Cindy Miller, executive director of FirstLink, said.
FirstLink is an organization that offers assistance to anyone looking for help, ranging from things like finances to mental health.
On Tuesday, she hosted a safe-talk training in Bottineau to teach the warning signs of suicide.
“We need to recognize and even ask someone if they’re thinking about suicide,” she said. “And once we do that, together we can get other help, too. But, it’s hard for people to talk about.”
Miller knows someone who died by suicide and she said she wished she would’ve noticed the warning signs earlier.
“Suddenly, they’re not taking care of themselves. Suddenly they seem more angry. Not sleeping well, not eating well, maybe losing a lot of weight–not intentionally, and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on. I think it helps when you know the person because you might notice there’s other things going on,” Miller said.
Dixie Pasicznyk is one of the people who attended the training.
She said she has struggled with her own mental health.
“I was, unfortunately, molested when I was eight years old until I was 10. And so, I’ve had different forms of struggles with mental health, like I said since I was little. But, my amazing family and friends have helped me through it,” said Pasicznyk.
She helped create the anxiety and depression support group, Happy Hearts.
She feels this training is especially important now.
“I think, well, especially over the last year with the pandemic, that our mental health has taken a hit,” Pasiczynk said. “People just need to know that there’s somebody there that knows what to watch out for. What signs to watch out for.”
Miller said in 2019, FirstLink experienced a record number of calls from people reaching out for help – more than 60,000. Last year, she says they got more than 71,000.
“This year, so far, we’re starting out even higher than last year,” she said. “I don’t think this is going to be short-term. I think people are going to struggle for a while. After some of the floods in some of the years, we’ve seen people are still calling many, many years after. I think we’re going to see the same with COVID. It’s been difficult on people. A lot more seclusion.”
Miller said it can be difficult for people living in rural areas to get help because there aren’t as many resources.
“I lived in a small community, too for about 20-some years. We knew that every Tuesday, one of the Fargo places would send counselors there. And if you’re Catholic, why would you be at the Lutheran Church every Tuesday at 10:00? People in the community would know and that’s difficult. That just makes the stigma harder because now people are all wondering what’s going on with you or your family.”
The two experts say the worst can be avoided with a simple question.
Pasicznyk said, “Be open to asking for help. There’s no shame in opening up. And, for people to know that you need the help. There’s nothing wrong with asking, you know? We’re all human.”
“If they know now that you’re a safe person to talk to, that’s going to make a big difference. They know you’re that person they can come to if they do start having thoughts,” said Miller.
Miller added that the training age group is getting younger. They’re now doing it with fourth-graders while the primary focus has been junior high and high school.
She said that many people are CPR trained, but that they’re actually more likely to run into someone struggling with suicide or depression than someone who needs CPR.