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Grief specialist Roxann Storms speaks Sunday in New London during a community forum. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

Expert: No answer to 'why' after a suicide

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Expert: No answer to 'why' after a suicide
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

NEW LONDON -- The biggest thing surrounding suicide is why it happened and seeking to put the pieces back together, a grief specialist told a New London-Spicer audience Sunday night.


"In the hundreds of people that I have sat with that have experienced a suicide of a loved one, they have never found the answer,'' said Roxann Storms, grief specialist with the Children's Grief Connection of St. Cloud.

"They might get a clearer image, but it's trying to make sense of something that is incomprehensible," she said.

" ... We know that there is a strong correlation between mental illness and suicide, especially with depression and suicide,'' Storms said. However, she said most people living with mental illness do not take their lives.

Hard as it is to understand, suicide is a choice, said Storms. The reasons include an incredible pain or desperation, especially with adolescents. Because of that impulsivity, they make a quick decision but everyone lives with the impacts of it.

Storms spoke at a community forum Sunday evening at the New London-Spicer High School to provide support for the community and to share information about coping with grief.

The event was a response to the deaths of two teenagers who recently took their own lives in separate incidents.

Storms and others spoke to more than 250 adults and children during a 90-minute program. Afterward, participants met in small groups led by mental health facilitators. The forum was organized by a new mental health task force that will address long-term issues.

Storms said she would not tell people how to deal with grief, but would help them understand what they may be experiencing.

"Sometimes it takes people by surprise and catches us off balance," Storms said. " ... We tend to think there's a proper way of grieving, to know what grief looks like, but there are several different patterns or styles of grieving.''

She said grief is a "holistic body experience'' that can cause headaches, stomach aches, sadness, nightmares, frustration, sleep disturbances, poor treatment of others and regret.

She said grief can be like a rollercoaster ride: People may think they're doing well, but the rollercoaster climbs again by surprise.

Storms said individual responses to grief will vary. Some people show emotion openly and some talk and share. Some cope through activity like chopping wood or running, while others process grief inside themselves.

"We don't need to make comparisons with how somebody is grieving or make judgments,'' she said.

Storms said there is no "going to back to normal,'' but that doesn't mean that people will not heal from the tragedy or not move on in positive ways.

Dr. Rick Lee, chief executive officer of Woodland Centers in Willmar, a community mental health center serving west central Minnesota, said suicide follows only motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for Minnesota teenagers.

Lee said everyone was gathered because two young people tragically concluded that ending their lives was the only or best solution for the problems they were facing. Lee said most suicides are completed by persons with mental illnesses, most commonly depression.

"This is especially tragic because depression is highly treatable,'' he said. "Depression is a health condition. ... Depression is an illness which can develop regardless of whether something bad has happened in a person's life.''

Lee said mental illness and suicide are public health problems that must be assertively addressed. Failing to do so ruins lives and in some cases costs live. Lee said suicide prevention efforts should be as focused as efforts to improve healthful living through exercise, keeping weight down and quitting or never smoking.

"Community and parent education, early identification and interventions, better coordination of services between primary care providers, schools and mental health providers all are crucial to the well-being of our children,'' Lee said.

NLS Superintendent Paul Carlson said the school has programs and activities to educate students and staff regarding positive school climate.

He urged all to be respectful and supportive. He asked people to avoid blaming a single event, circumstance or person. Also, he said rumors are not helpful and he asked everyone to refrain from surmising or spreading rumors.

"It is important to educate our students, parents, staff and community about suicide warning signs and what we can do. We have valuable resources here for you this evening,'' Carlson said. "This can only be solved by all parts of our community. Working together we can make a difference.''

Two participants interviewed by the Tribune said they appreciated the program.

Naomi Noeldner said it was great to see so many people attend, to get the topic out in the open and take it seriously. "I hope they come to understand the importance of paying attention to what's going on with our kids, with other people's kids and to take mental illness seriously,'' she said.

A man who asked not to be identified said the meeting was educational. "We want to make sure we're doing the best for our kids,'' he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150