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Talking about big issues

By Staff | Aug 8, 2018

I started work at the Estherville News on June 5, 2015.

I just posted on Facebook the third anniversary of one of life’s momentous occasions: my first trip to Woody’s. We had just moved into our little house on the northside. As far as moves go, it was fairly painless as we’d been in temporary digs out of town for four months, and I was commuting to two jobs on the Highway 9 corridor. Our stuff was in a storage unit, so it was just a matter of grabbing a U-Haul from Vic’s Corner and making a few trips. I said I’d provide beer and pizza for all, and my friend said we must, must, must all go to Woody’s. She, in fact, got there a bit before we were actually done unloading and was excitedly texting us to say we had to try The World.

“I’m mostly just happy to be moved in to Estherville, finally,” I replied.

It’s easy to talk about one’s first bite of Woody’s Pizza, the first time driving on Half Mile Hill in the ice and snow, the first Sweet Corn Days, and the other milestones that mean you’re part of the Estherville community.

We’ve experienced together the news of many good things and some very difficult things, too. I’ve been better in some ways than others in delivering the news the way you wanted it.

Before I go any further, I’m going to list some national and state resources for those contemplating suicide. These are also for friends or family who may be concerned about someone.

n Your Iowa Life – call 855-581-8111 or text 855-895-8398 for free 24/7, confidential support. The lifeline is answered by Iowans. Other resources available online at yourlifeiowa.org. There is also a live chat function on the website.

n National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255). The lifeline is answered by someone at a crisis center closest to your location. Other resources available online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org

n Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741 for free 24/7 crisis support.

n Central Iowa Crisis Line – Call 844-258-8858 for 24/7 help in Iowa’s 10 central Iowa counties. Information is also available online at www.cicsmhds.org.

Our community has lost four of its young people (that I know of!) this summer to their own volition. Two women in their 30s who were well-loved and thriving in their chosen careers, one who stayed in the area and one who moved away, and two young men, more recent additions to Emmet County. Three of the four were deaths by hanging. They happened within weeks of the high-profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, though I doubt those suicides had much to do with the local ones.

I don’t look to have a community discussion about how they died or any issues they may have had in life. I hope those who loved them can celebrate how they lived and loved. It’s far too soon to even think of approaching the families to tell their loved ones’ stories in hopes of helping others who might be in the place of considering suicide.

Having said that, the Boston Globe just did a beautiful story of a seemingly cheerful and ambitious teen who took her own life last March. In that case, the family had included in her obituary the way she died. She left a journal that chronicled an inner downward spiral, but left a note to her family that said she purposely hid how she was feeling because she wanted to handle it on her own terms. The story is called Secrets of a Lost Girl and the girl’s name was Alexandra Valoras.

Iowa has a big problem. The rate of suicide has risen 36.2 percent in the 2000s, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Experts in the state attribute the rise to the lack of options for mental health. Along with the state hospitals in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda, six other hospitals have closed inpatient psychiatric units in recent years.

Emmet is one of two-thirds of Iowa counties that lack a mental health prescriber in the county, and as I listen to our county supervisors, the new system of mental health care regional “access centers’ is not going all that well.

I feel, even if we had better infrastructure (and we do need it), it wouldn’t really change the circumstances surrounding the rise in suicides. Would you feel comfortable going for mental health treatment beyond an antidepressant (the most prescribed category of medicine in the U.S. is it working?) or Xanax from your primary care doctor?

They’re trying to build a new, 100-bed facility in Clive. It would be centrally located, and from the blueprints, it even appears to be a possibly healing place. But neighbors came out in protest worrying about people breaking out and committing various crimes (though people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators) and one eight-year-old boy said, “I just don’t want to catch it,” implying that he thought mental illness is contagious. I doubt he’s the only one with that impression. We haven’t gotten over the stigma of mental illness, and friends, it’s killing people.

The other problem is, I don’t know that everyone who dies by suicide was mentally ill. For those who are happy in life, or those whose faith tradition forbids it (though that doesn’t stop everyone), it seems like one must have parted with reality to go through with it.

The CDC reported relationship problems or loss, substance misuse, physical health problems and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to death by suicide nationwide. This brings me back to my theory that we live too much of life alone. We may be in front of a computer all day at work. We drive home and close our automatic garage doors behind us. We text “ok” in response to a friend checking in on us, if they do that. We like things on Facebook, but when is the last time you had a soul to soul conversation? If you have relationship, legal issues, health issues, or other stress, does anyone know? We’re taught, out of respect, to keep relationship issues between the people in the relationship, to not talk about money, to pretend everything is fine because everyone else is pretending everything is fine.

Is that a shift we need to make in our culture??Has our social networking caused a cold distance where there should be warmth??Is it easier now for those not feeling like themselves to be cut off??

Let’s talk about this.