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Suicide walk provides steps for awareness, safety

By Kelsea Kierstead
posted April 18, 2011

In recent years, suicide has become the third leading cause of death among young adults, a startling statistic that has impacted the lives and love ones of many in the Oshkosh community. Recognizing that high school years can be dark and unforgiving to the self-esteem of individuals, Youth Leadership of Oshkosh is joining forces with the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity of UW-Oshkosh to let individuals know that they are not alone. As a final project for the graduated West student leaders, a 5 K walk or run fundraiser on UWO campus will take place on Saturday, April 30. The event is expected to act only as a microcosm for the care and education the community can provide for its members, according to coordinator Jenny Wesner.

“The suicide rate has become quite an issue within the past 10 years, especially in Kaukauna,” she said “Kaukana recently did a similar event and I thought ‘they did it, why haven’t we’?”

The first annual event will also include an appearance by former Packer player Chester Marcol as a keynote speaker.

“Marcol is a survivor of these same problems and is now a counselor for drug and alcohol abuse in Appleton, and we hope to have him back every year to keep this event going,” said Wesner.

The event sponsored in Kaukauna was just the beginning of the inspiration and purpose for hosting. To Youth Leadership participant Jordan Schettle, the awareness outreach to the Fox Valley has personal value, derived from previous adolescent experiences.

“Personally, I knew someone that was in the stages of about to do the deed. I thought that we should let people know that there are people who care,” he said.

As the chosen final project for the Youth Leadership of Oshkosh participants, the voting occurred among leaders.

“We did this thing called ten-four voting, and brainstormed all the things that were really important to us, and once we wrote down those organizations, we came together as a whole and discussed them as a group and we narrowed it down to the Yellow Ribbon,” said Schettle.

Shortly after deciding to contribute to the Yellow Ribbon, the team discovered a similar event was occurring through UWO, and agreed to combine efforts .

“The walk in Kaukana had a great turn out despite rainy, cold weather, so I think we will be able to make an impact here in Oshkosh,” said Wesner.

Suicidal anxiety and depression have hit home for Wesner, motivating her to lead the awareness and education as the Fox Valley representative of SOS and Community for Hope programs.

“SOS stands for Survivors of Suicide—an organization for those who have survived the loss of a loved one,” she said. “The Community for Hope is also centered on education and the awareness of suicide prevention, intervention, and post-intervention.”

Also a member of the Community for Hope, Assistant Principal Lexi Ballweg believes educating today’s youth is crucial in stopping depression in its tracks.

“[Suicide] is a problem, even in just our area,” she said. “I think that the Community for Hope is doing a lot of great things, and I hope our kids get an eye opener [at the walk] to the awareness that is already out there.”

Further advocating and exposing the problems of teen suicide in the Fox Valley, Ballweg passed along the invitation to all West clubs and organizations to participate in the walk.

“I attend some of the Community for Hope meetings, and I knew that it was something coming up that they wanted to start. I thought that our students would be interested in being a part of this first annual walk and I think that using it as awareness for teen suicide is so important, so I wanted to get our kids involved as much as possible,” she said.

Student involvement is also dear to Schettle, who hopes to motivate individuals to be a part of the greater good.

“There are people that aren’t treated fairly, and for just a few hours you can take time out of your life to make theirs better,” he said.

The empathy from the student side is cherished by Wesner, whose son took his life four years ago. Making it her mission to advocate awareness and education, she has helpful tips and experience for those who need help immediately.

“There are many precursor behaviors that can be recognized when people are educated [about suicide]. Victims feel that they are constantly stuck in situations that they can’t get out of, which all piles up to create an awful cycle,” she said. “They can change their eating and sleeping habits, and often times [victims] say things that need to be taken seriously, because they often avoid asking for help for themselves.”

Schettle sympathizes with this awful cycle, admitting that high school can be just plain tough at times.

“Your life does matter,” he said. “You affect people in ways whether you know it or not.”

Wesner also asserts that there is always good just around the corner, as long as students keep a watchful eye out for each other.

“Awareness is important because people need to take care of each other. The public needs to be educated about the truth of depression, mental illness because often people cannot see it like any other disease.”

To help someone in need, Wesner offers three simple steps to get the proper help as soon as possible.

“QPR stands for question, persuade refer. Asking simple questions like ‘hey, are you okay?’ and then gently convincing them they need professional help is important. Help can come from any trusted adult, including your doctor, physician, school counselor, or the police.”

Ballweg and the administrative team have similar resources to stop bullying from causing life altering problems.

“I hope that [the students] know someone that they trust,” said Ballweg. “We are here to make sure that everyone is learning and safe, so we have rules and regulations we enforce. We are also here because we really like kids, and want to make sure everyone here is safe emotionally,” she said.

Wesner also stresses the safety of those in need, advocating that calling 9-1-1 is completely acceptable. The 2-1-1 hotline provided by Community for Hope is also available to rescue anybody in a potentially dangerous, self inflicting situation.

“The greatest thing about the Community for Hope is that we come to you, any time, anywhere, for free,” said Wesner.

To support the efforts of the Community for Hope, SOS, and Youth Leadership of Oshkosh, contact Jenny Wesner to register for the walk at wes6@charter.net. The collaborative community event will give those who are struggling a notion of security.

“The grass is always greener. You need to realize that you have your whole life ahead of you so don’t worry about a few crummy years of high school,” said Schettle.

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