Rich Smith held up the death certificate for his son Wyatt Monday night and said he hopes no one in the audience he was addressing ever has to sign one of them for their child; Smith was one of several individuals who shared their stories of loved ones who took their own lives and of their battles with depression during a community meeting held in the PAC.
Rich Smith held up the death certificate for his son Wyatt Monday night and said he hopes no one in the audience he was addressing ever has to sign one of them for their child.
Suicide, said Smith, took his son, and he is hoping what he has learned helps others do what he did not do.
Smith was one of several individuals who shared their stories of loved ones who took their own lives and of their battles with depression during a community meeting held in the PAC.
Nearly 150 parents, educators, administrators, pastors, teens and other members of the community gathered together to talk about doing something to address the reality in the area.
Too many of our kids are determining the only option they have is to end their life.
What does one do to keep that from happening.
"You need to start the conversation with your kids," said Kari Rieke, who organized the community meeting. "It is a very uncomfortable discussion, but it is one you have to have with them."
Rieke shared her personal story of battling depression and suicide attempts.
"By the grace of God my attempts failed," she said.
Despite that fact, she said the pain of depression did not go away until she started doing something about it.
Taking those first steps takes a lot of courage, she said, because we live in a society where mental illness and suicide are not topics people like to discuss.
"There is a stigma about people who have depression that we have to get rid of," Rieke said.
Smith said those who face depression create a facade of happiness with others all the while they are dealing with inner issues that can and do cripple those who are being impacted.
"We can all put on great fronts," he said. "Those who are feeling depressed do not want to tell anyone because of the fear, the shame and the judgment."
Smith said he believes the kids want to talk, as was evident when two RVHS seniors stood up in front of the group and admitted they have dealt with depression and have had thoughts of suicide or have themselves attempted it.
The struggle for them is they felt they had to get through on their own, but when they realized there were people who they could trust and who would find them help a great burden was lifted from them.
Depression is more than just feeling blue it is a chemical imbalance that one can't just get over. They need help as they face it every day.
The questions many have been asking is whose job is it to address this issue and why are they not doing that job.
Some community members have ex-pressed they feel the school district needs to be doing more.
"The school is one piece of the puzzle," said Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Area School District superintendent.
He said there are some very sophisticated issues that one has to address when it comes to suicide and the reasons leading up to it, and the school district does not have the expertise or the means to do that.
The counselors in the district are not mental health professionals, but he said they are doing a great job of trying to help the best ways they can.
He also said the staff in the district is made up of a great bunch of people who are not going to turn their backs on those who have a need.
One of those counselors from the school district is Barb Selle-vold, and she talked about the fact that she has learned so much in her 40 years in education, including the reality of teens and depression issues.
"Teens do not deal with depression the same way," Sellevold said. "They do not all sit in the corner and cry. They get angry, they get quiet and some get antagonistic."
The key is to watch for the signs, especially when a student who acts in a particular way who then changes that pattern. Those students, she said, could be dealing with issues including depression.
Sellevold said she has been having conversations with the mental health center which has offered its expertise in trying to provide education and support for students and the community.
Sellevold added there are groups in the school, including current support groups for those who have been impacted by the recent suicides.
One thing Sellevold said is she thinks the community may be on the right track in finding ways to create an atmosphere where students know they can get help because of the actions some have been taking. A community deals with these types of issues in different stages, and she said an expert once told her a community that has gotten to the finger pointing and blaming stage is searching for answers, and that is a good sign it is serious about making a change.
Mike Moser, who serves as pastor of Cornerstone Christian church in Redwood Falls said the community needs to recognize the role God plays in finding real solutions.
"My God is bigger than this," he said, add-ing we can't be afraid to talk about God.
Another meeting has been scheduled for March 21. More information about that meeting and what is going to take place is going to be printed as the date approaches.