Director of SAVE encourages action to save lives

by Sarah Peterson
Sun Newspapers

“Every 14 minutes, someone dies to suicide. In that same amount of time, 25 attempt suicide, and most of those are young girls,” said Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE).

A youth panel speaks about their experiences at the “Let’s Talk About It, Anoka County” program Feb. 27 at Fridley High School. The panel included, from left, Anoka High School graduate Jessica Ktytor, Spring Lake Park High School student Andy Johnson, Main Street School of Performing Arts student Max Mars and Fridley High School student Samantha Ferdelman (not pictured). Photo by Sarah Peterson - Sun Newspapers

Reidenberg was the keynote speaker at the third public health forum in a series called “Let’s Talk About It, Anoka County,” which featured a resource fair and free pizza in the Fridley High School cafeteria, followed by a program with various speakers and youth and adult panels, with the discussion moderated by Reidenberg.

A question-and-answer session with the panels closed the event. SAVE was one of the event’s sponsors.

“We need you to know there are warning signs for suicide. These are things that we want you to pay attention to so that, if you want to save somebody’s life, you can,” said Reidenberg.

The two major signs are talking or writing about suicide and looking for ways to die, he said.

“Out of all the people that have been studied that have died by suicide, every single one of them did those two things…. When the brain takes you down this path, it leads you to this place where you try to communicate it, but you don’t do it very clearly, and you look for ways out of the pain,” Reidenberg said.

According to Reidenberg, the pain of mental illness isn’t perceived.

“We can actually take a picture of a brain and spinal cord and we can see changes in blood flow…,” Reidenberg said.

“When you’re struggling with these illnesses, there’s less of it, and when there’s less of it, it hurts. .. So as the brain gets sick and it hurts, people just want out of the pain.”

Most people who are lost to suicide don’t want to die, but just wanted that pain to go away, he said.

“These are not things that kids just make up. They’re not doing it for attention. These are not things that adults do just to get out of work or because they’re having problems with their spouse. These things hurt,” Reidenberg said.

But when people do talk about their pain or thoughts of suicide, they don’t typically communicate it clearly, he said.

“Most people don’t come about and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to kill myself,’ or ‘I’m going commit suicide.’ Most of the time, it’s really indirect. Most of the time, it’s things like, ‘Oh, you know, you guys would be better off without me here.’”

He said in these tough economic times, children have been heard saying that their families can’t afford to have them around or that their families would do better without them.

“Research says, if you ask someone about suicide, you’re not going to put a thought in their head. You’re not going to lead them to that. So ask, but be really direct with them. If the only thing that their brain can think about is death and dying, you need to connect with them at that level,” Reidenberg said.

He recommended asking if they’re thinking about “checking out” or if they’re thinking about dying.

“If you hear ‘yes’ or see any moment of hesitation, now is the time for you to save their life…. You can do this; you have to do this,” Reidenberg said.

Reidenberg said there are only five or six people in his organization at SAVE, and they can’t be everywhere.

He encouraged community members, family members and friends to be aware of loved ones’ needs and seek out resources available throughout the community to find help.

A fourth “Let’s Talk About It” event about mental illness, yet to be scheduled, is in the planning stages for another location in Anoka County.

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Editor’s note: Sarah Peterson is copy manager for SunFocus Newspapers.

Sarah Peterson is at [email protected]