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Viewpoint: A community dialogue for mental health awareness

Patty Schachtner

Sen. Patty Schachtner represents Wisconsin’s 10th senate district. The district covers parts of Burnett, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, and St. Croix counties.

This past month, I traveled across western Wisconsin to engage in needed conversations about mental health and suicide prevention.

In St. Croix Falls, I met with the Mental Health Task Force of Polk County to learn about local resources and the community's need for mental health services. I found it helpful to meet with new partners and learn about efforts to strengthen state and local collaborations. At the time of the meeting, it was just a few days until the Third Annual Polk County Suicide Awareness Walk. In past years, 500 to 700 people walked or ran in support of suicide awareness and prevention. The Walk has also been able to raise more than $60,000 for community services in Polk County.

This year's suicide awareness walk was a huge success as well. Tristan Divine, the organizer behind the annual event, invited Kevin Hines to speak. Hines is one of the few people to have jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and survive. Today, Hines travels across the globe to share his story, challenge stigma, and advocate for mental health resources and awareness.

Kevin's speech was impactful for me in many ways. As a medical examiner, I work closely with law enforcement to investigate deaths and speak with families. I know that each death by suicide creates a ripple effect that touches family, friends and neighbors. I know that these deaths are preventable and that we can do more to reach people who are struggling.

For instance, we can reach people through dialogue. Today, conversations around mental health are starting in our schools. In the middle of May, I was invited to speak with students at the St. Anne School in my hometown of Somerset about mental health during their character building retreat. I thought it was helpful to empower young students with age-appropriate information, including the knowledge that it is okay to reach out for help. By having these conversations, we are helping individuals learn about resources, and we are creating an atmosphere that is supportive of each other.

It is events and opportunities like these that give me hope. They demonstrate that we are still learning and growing in our approach to mental health. For many decades, social stigma made it difficult to discuss mental health or illnesses. People avoided seeking help, fearing what their family, friends, or neighbors would think. Coverage for mental health services was less comprehensive. Today, we are having needed conversations. We are strengthening communities with the qualities that are inherent to humankind — kindness, compassion, and a sense of togetherness.

(If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK [8255]. Trained counselors are available 24/7.)

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