Old or young, male or female, mental illness doesn't discriminate--which is something that the current Miss Perham titleholder, Sarah Labine, understands on a personal level. An intelligent, bright-eyed brunette studying animal science, Labine projects the optimistic vibe of someone who has it all together; however, she said that that hasn't always been the case.
"When I was younger, I started to deal with depression and self-worth issues, and I started to feel like I didn't really matter anymore," she explained. "During my junior year of high school, I almost took my life. It was a really difficult situation, but I formed what I had gone through into my platform and now I get to be a voice for suicide and depression."
Unfortunately, not everyone has the support system or knowledge of resources necessary to overcome such emotions. In fact, every 12 hours, suicide claims the life of another Minnesotan, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), making it five times more prevalent in the state than homicide.
Yet, until recent media attention garnered by the much-debated Netflix series, "13 Reasons Why," the word "suicide" was not one that popped up in everyday conversation.
"People don't want to talk about it," Hailey Jutz, current Miss Northwest titleholder, explained. "But how are we going to change anything if we don't talk about it? We used to not want to talk about cancer because it was so scary, but now we're trying to find a cure for it."
Jutz, who also utilizes her platform to bring suicide and mental illness awareness to the forefront, is a well-known advocate in the community--a cause that became near and dear to her heart after her father, Detroit Lakes Police Department Officer Chad Jutz, took his own life in 2012.
"At the time, I had no idea what suicide was," she said. "I'd talked about it in health class and had known someone who took their own life, but I was too young to really understand. Later, my great-aunt also passed away from suicide, and I got a lot of backlash from that because people asked how I couldn't see the signs, since that's my platform. There are a lot of things that happen behind closed doors, though."
Overall, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) lists suicide as the 9th leading cause of death in Minnesota. However, when you narrow in on Minnesotans that fall within the 15-34 age group, that number changes--and suicide becomes the second leading cause of death instead.
According to statistics released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in September 2016, there were 726 suicide deaths reported in Minnesota in 2015, up from 686 (an increase of 6 percent) from 2014. That being said, the 2015 rate of suicide was 13.1 per year per 100,000 Minnesotans--up from 12.2 in 2014--climbing to the highest rate since 1986.
The MDH reported that suicides among men drove the increase, with the rate among men increasing to 20.5 per 100,000 while the rate among women stayed stable at 5.9 per 100,000. Shelley Guida, a marriage and family therapist and Outpatient Services Supervisor at Lakeland Mental Health, explained that this could be due to the fact that male suicide attempts tend to be more lethal than female attempts.
"Males tend to have more high-risk behaviors than females typically," she said. "Even when kids or people don't intend to kill themselves, sometimes it accidentally happens because of reckless or high-risk behaviors they exhibit."
But why, with awareness and prevention gaining steam each year, is the overall rate still rising?
According to Jessica Ekholm, who is currently helping plan the second annual "Stomp That Stigma" walk to be held in Detroit Lakes, part of the reason could be that people don't realize they're not alone.
"I was diagnosed at the age of 21--my diagnosis is major depression-- and it's an everyday battle," she said. "It took three years just to get the right medication and the right dosage, and there are so many down days where you feel so alone. There's such a stigma surrounding mental illness and there shouldn't be--it's just like diabetes or cancer, but it's actually harder to get people to understand."
The walk, which will be held on May 27, is an effort to raise awareness and gain community-wide support for those struggling with mental illness. Registration will begin at 8 a.m. at M State-Detroit Lakes and, although participants are encouraged to raise money for the walk, monetary donations are not required to participate. In the end, Ekholm explained, it's about showing up and making your voice heard.
"I want people to realize they're not alone," Ekholm said. "This is something that is so huge and nobody talks about it. People are living with mental illness and are afraid to say anything, so we want to get everybody to understand what mental illness is and to learn how to watch for signs and symptoms in family and friends."
Guida added that suicide rates could be rising due to the rising levels of stress and the presence of social media.
"Especially with youth that we serve, we see a lot of stress and pressure to do well in school and in competitive activities," she explained. "People also don't sit around at the dinner table and discuss their day anymore. I really worry that kids aren't learning to communicate face-to-face because of technology and social media."
Guida said that, in the Detroit Lakes community specifically, she sees a lot of cutting behavior in adolescent females. Cutting, which is defined by the Mayo Clinic as "the act of deliberately harming the surface of your own body...as an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger and frustration," is a form of self-injury.
"For our youth, everything is so immediate with them," she said. "They don't wait for anything--because of technology, they have everything at the tips of their fingers. Everything is glamorous on Facebook or Snapchat, but there's also a lot more cyber-bullying going on. Kids feel more comfortable putting something out there when they don't have to say it face-to-face."
According to Labine and Jutz, a gap in education exists. Both young women explained that they feel that youth should be taught that their emotional and psychological health is equally as important as their physical health.
"Taking yourself in to get your psychological health checked out is nothing to be ashamed of," Labine said. "So often we think that we're okay and we think that we're just having a bad week or a bad year, but it continually lowers our mental health."
Guida said that this type of discussion is paramount to decreasing the rates of suicide.
"We have to talk about mental health and acknowledge the presence of depression and anxiety in our society as something that we shouldn't be ashamed of but should treat as more of a medical condition," she said. "It can be treated, and we have to lessen the stigma of mental health in general."
Jutz agreed, explaining that it all comes down to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
"Depression isn't a flaw in character; it's a flaw in chemistry," she said. "As cheesy as that saying is, it's true--the makeup of your brain just isn't gelling together. But it's okay to not be okay."
Everyone plays a role in suicide prevention.
Suicide is a preventable problem. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please dial 911.
You can also help prevent suicide by knowing the warning signs:
• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings
If you are concerned someone is at risk for suicide:
• Ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves (this will not put the idea in their head or make it more likely that they will attempt suicide)
• Stay with the person (do not leave them alone)
• Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
• Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
• Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
Minnesota crisis resources include:
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
• Crisis Contact Number for Becker County: 1-218-850-HELP(4357)
• TXT4Life, a crisis text messaging service: Text "life" to 61222 (Standard data and text rates apply)