It’s not a cry for attention. It’s not a ploy to earn pity.

That’s what Kevin Engebretson wants people to know about suicide.

“It’s a very touchy subject, but it’s a very serious matter,” the Central Lakes College student said Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Known musically as Crossover, Engebretson is a musician with a message.

“I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want to be a millionaire,” he said. “I just literally want to make an impact on this world and hopefully change and save lives before my time comes.”

The 22-year-old recently made it past the first round of auditions for the popular TV competition “American Idol.”

If he makes it through to the next round in Los Angeles, he plans to sing “Thoughts of Suicide,” an original song chronicling his painful experience with suicide.

“I’ve attempted multiple times, northing I’m proud of,” he said after performing his song, guitar on hand, for a crowd of passersby at CLC Tuesday.

The impromptu performance took place next to a table of resources on suicide prevention and awareness organized by the college’s psychology club for National Suicide Prevention Week.

Club members Liberty Nunn and Alex Kahl staffed the table Tuesday in hopes of helping people feel more comfortable talking about suicide and mental health issues.

“And knowing where they can go based on how they prefer to talk about it,” Nunn said of her goal for the week. “Whether it’s to make that phone call, write an email, send a text message, talk to a friend.”

Students didn’t necessarily show much of an interest in the table of resources while Nunn and Kahl sat behind it, but they did notice students checking it out after they left it earlier in the week.

“Yesterday we left the table up and walked away, and more students grabbed more information without us standing there,” Nunn said, leading her to the realization that suicide is still stigmatized around campus.

“It’s amazing how many eyes you see kind of glance over (at us) and look right down or look anywhere else,” Kahl said of students passing the table.

Talking about suicide, Nunn added, isn’t something that’s always been viewed as OK.

“And we really want to make it OK,” she said.

So does Engebretson, who grew up being told those who talk about suicide or depression only do it for attention.

“That is false. That is not real,” he said adamantly, noting people who struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts should not listen to those remarks.

“Because you don’t want to wait until it’s too late, because it literally affects the world,” he added. “It’s affects your family; it affects what God has planned.”

Those ideas are what drive Engebretson to pursue music.

“If not everyone, most people have experienced losing someone due to depression and suicide,” he said. “And it breaks my heart thinking about that that can happen to people. So the reason why I write music is to hopefully save someone’s life.”

How to talk about it

That’s why Stephanie Downey educates people on how to talk about suicide.

As youth suicide prevention coordinator for the Minnesota Department to Health, Downey is working under a federal grant aimed at suicide prevention efforts in those ages 10-24.

Stephanie Downey, youth suicide coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Health, talks to an audience Tuesday, Sept. 10, at Central Lakes College about safe ways to talk about suicide and mental health issues. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Stephanie Downey, youth suicide coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Health, talks to an audience Tuesday, Sept. 10, at Central Lakes College about safe ways to talk about suicide and mental health issues. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

She spoke to an audience at CLC Tuesday, also World Suicide Prevention Day, about choosing the right language and communication techniques to talk with those experiencing suicidal thoughts and those affected by suicide.

“We all play a role in the prevention of suicide,” she said. “You don’t have to have a Ph.D. or letters behind your name ... to have a role in the prevention of suicide.”

A few tips she gave listeners were:

  • Use person-centered, nonjudgmental language. Instead of referring to someone as a schizophrenic or a depressed person, say “a person who has schizophrenia” or “a person suffering from depression.”

  • Be mindful of the use of words like “crazy” or “insane” and how those might affect someone suffering from mental illness.

  • Be mindful of the word “committed” when talking about suicide. The word commit often has a negative connotation associated with crime or sinning, Downey explained. Instead, she said people should use phrases like “died by suicide” or “took their own life.”

  • Don’t try to pin suicide on one specific cause. Suicide is complex, Downey said. It’s often oversimplified to be the direct result of something like bullying when it’s usually much more.

When talking with someone who lost a loved one to suicide, Downey said you don’t even necessarily need to say anything substantial to help.

“It’s good just to be present sometimes with loss survivors and say things like ... 'I can’t imagine what you’re going through, and I don’t know what to say to you, but I’m here.’ That really can be all that you need to say in that situation,” she said.

And sometimes phrases that might seem helpful, like “Let me know how I can help you,” can actually do more harm than good.

“You need to take some more actionable steps to support them,” Downey said.

Examples might be offering to come over and do laundry or watch someone’s kids while they take a nap or just bring dinner over and watch a movie.

“All of those kinds of things are actionable items that you can do that are going to be supportive versus that comfort we feel in saying, ‘I’m here to help, let me know what I can do for you,’” she said.

For those disseminating information to the public -- like media outlets, bloggers or advertisers -- Downey said it’s important not to sensationalize, glorify or romanticize suicide, as those tactics can often lead to contagion, or the spreading of suicide.

Teens and young adults are especially susceptible to contagion, she said, partially because the prefrontal cortex in the brain is not fully developed, meaning if a young person is closely affected by suicide, they may be easily influenced to immitate that behavior.

Downey also advised those with a public platform to include resources when talking about suicide and mental health, to let their audience know there’s help and there’s hope.

“We want to make sure that we are sharing the information that’s hope-seeking, that encourages help-seeking, that doesn’t show suicide as a response to one issue, that it’s complex,” she said.

Prevention

“Would you tell me why, why you want to take your life. Would you tell me why, why you can’t accept Christ.

We all have our doubts, and yes I’m guilty for trying attempts of suicide. Sadly, I got caught. You gotta try to give your heart to Christ. ‘Cuz if you don’t, you might end up losing your life.”

Engebretson hopes the emotion-packed lyrics of his song will someday play a role in suicide prevention by reaching those who have lost their way and lost hope.

“God willing, I will continue to pursue this and hopefully bring people back to reality,” he said. “I’ll wake America up. That’s my goal.”

And Downey’s goal is to let the public know everyone can have a role in the prevention of suicide by simply knowing what do say, she said, because suicide is preventable, mental illness is treatable and recovery is possible.

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Resources

Various resources are available for those experiencing mental illness or suicidal thoughts, as well as those affected by suicide.

Wellness in the Woods Warmline: 844-739-6393, 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. This peer to peer telephone support line offers a safe and supportive space for people in emotional distress to call and talk with peers.

Crisis Line and Referral Service: 218-828-HELP, 800-462-5525, 24/7. The Crisis Line is a free, nonjudgmental resource for those in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Todd, Morrison and Wadena counties experiencing suicidal thoughts or other crisis situations.

Crisis Text Line: Those who don’t want to make a phone call can text MN to 741741 anytime for text-based support.

Mental Health Minnesota Voice of Recovery: Call 612-288-0400, 877-404-3190 or text “support” to 85511, 5-10 p.m. Calls and texts are answered by specialists who have firsthand experience living with a mental health condition.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, 24/7. This national lifeline offers free, confidential support for those in crisis and educational resources for loved ones needing support.

WeCanNavigate.com: Educational information about the symptoms and treatments of psychosis.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: www.afsp.org. This national organization provides resources for loss survivors and information on support groups.