Meghann Levitt, public health educator for Carlton County, read off the names of more than 40 people who died by suicide and are remembered by those who attended the 13th annual Suicide Awareness Memorial Walk on Saturday in Carlton.
One of those names belonged to the son of Corinne Campbell, of Cloquet. She's been attending the walks since shortly after her son, Jeremy Campbell, died in 2010 at the age of 19. For Campbell, it's an opportunity to know she's not alone in her pain and to talk about how she's feeling with others who understand. It's an opportunity to raise awareness.
"Mental awareness is not acknowledged as much as it should be," Campbell said. "It is a big issue. I know that especially because I worked in the school system."
Campbell said her son's mental health took a turn after he left to serve in the U.S. Army. After graduating at the top of his basic training class, he was sent to the 101st Airborne Division in Kentucky.
"I attribute it to very poor leadership," she said of his suicide. "I think Jeremy got to the point where he was harassed so much by the sergeant that he felt there was no way out. I had friends of his who would call me afterward and say, 'I don't know why Jeremy was hounded all the time.'"
Later, she'd find out that her son's sergeant was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She still wonders if her son would still be alive had he been diagnosed sooner.
After the mile-long walk about 100 people participated in, Jessica Laney, an investigator with the Carlton County Sheriff's Office who's lost two colleagues and an uncle to suicide, spoke about how the professional attitude around mental health has shifted since she started her career in law enforcement.
"From the beginning of time cops were hired to be big and tough and able to handle anything. So when things got hard mentally and overwhelming, cops were expected to just stuff it down and not talk about it," Laney said.
Now, Laney said, a number of resources exist to help first responders look after their mental health and process critical incidents, including a critical incident stress management team for debriefings, post-incident grief support services and chaplaincy.
"One of my favorite things that I've seen over the years is the increase in officers checking in on each other," she said. "The stigmas and nerves about talking to people about how they're doing is slowly chipping away and people are more likely to say, 'Hey, that was a really hard deal. How are you doing?'"
As for herself, Laney pledged to continue to look after her own mental health to ensure she can continue serving the community in a healthy way. She asked others to do the same: "If you only hear one thing that I say that then hear this: There is no shame in however you feel or whatever your life experience has been."
- Northern Minnesota Suicide Prevention's crisis text line: Text "MN" to 741741 or call 218-623-1800 or 844-772-4724 from anywhere in the United States. After a couple minutes of automated responses, those reaching out will be connected to a crisis counselor.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255.
- To schedule grief support services with Essentia Health call 218-786-1255 or visit essentiahealth.org/griefsupportduluth for more information.