Friends, family focus on educating public in aftermath of suicides
April 5, 2004
Jennifer Ann Martin was 21 when she killed herself, throwing her family into turmoil and grief. It was almost as if the Grand Rapids woman knew it was time to go, her uncle and godfather Jim Jensen said. Eighty percent of her belongings in her bedroom were packed up, the boxes labeled.
"It was like she was content at that time that this was going to happen," said Jensen, who himself has battled bouts of depression. When Jensen, who now lives in St. Cloud, got the call Aug. 7, 2001, he drove for hours to be with Martin's family and help take care of funeral arrangements.
"She was a 21-year-old lady who looked like she had the whole world on a string," Jensen said. "From the outside, everything looked good."
It was then that Jensen decided to do something about the rising number of young adults and teen-agers who suffer from depression and those who end up attempting or committing suicide.
"I wanted to know why," Jensen said. "And there are no answers."
Jensen contacted SAVE, or Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. The Minneapolis organization was founded in August 1989 by a group of people who each had lost a family member to suicide. SAVE works to educate about suicide prevention and to speak for survivors.
Nowadays, Jensen volunteers as a speaker for SAVE, speaking at events and classes in the St. Cloud area.
"We are not doctors, we are not psychiatrists," Jensen said. "We are volunteers who have a passion for this because it's affected us personally."
He speaks frankly about his battles with depression. He discusses the fact that he's still on medication to beat the illness, while encouraging teen-agers and young adults to seek help when they need it.
"The stigma is out there," Jensen said. "It's an illness, just like Alzheimer's, epilepsy. Nobody asks for these things. It affects anybody and everybody. No economics, no race, color, creed, there's no age."
The mind is a very strong organ, Jensen said.
The pain that people with depression endure is "a gnawing that stays with you 24-7," he said. "It beats you up until you can't stand it any more.
"A lot of people blame the person who killed themselves for all the pain and suffering of family and friends, but that person didn't intend for that. They wanted to get rid of the pain."
'Don't give up'
Depression can affect young people differently, Jensen said.
"Young minds are so impressionable, and the mind starts thinking so fast," he said.
Young people shouldn't be afraid to seek help, Jensen said.
"Go to an adult," he said. "If the first one doesn't respond, go to another one. Don't give up if the first adult says no."
Young people who struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts have a powerful tool at their disposal: technology.
"In today's world, everybody lives on a computer," Jensen said. "The Internet is something I wish people would use."
Jensen's advice to those who suspect their friend may be suffering from depression?
"Reassure your friend that there is help and he can feel better. I'm living proof of that," he said. "You're getting involved here, but it's worth it."
Where to turn for help
o National Hope Line Network: (800) SUICIDE.
o American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: (888) 333-AFSP or www.afsp.org.
o American Association of Suicidology: (202) 237-2280 or www.suicidology.org.
o National Alliance for the Mentally Ill: (800) 950-NAMI or www.nami.org.
o National Foundation for Depressive Illness: www.depression.org.
o National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association: (800) 82-NDMDA or www.ndmda.org.
o National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression: (516) 829-0091, www.narsad.org.
Help & Crisis Resources