We have an alarming situation in Itasca County that no one wants to talk about. It’s not unique to this area but recently we’ve seen a frightening trend. The trouble: Suicide.
In the past 10 years, there have been 32 suicides in Itasca County and 139 attempts and/or threats of suicide, according to the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office. When considering those numbers, it is particularly disturbing to note that they only include the incidents that were reported.
While it is difficult to know or understand why our friends, our family members, our neighbors choose to take their own lives, some cases have been tied to mental illness or feelings of depression and isolation that is sometimes spurred by harmful situations like abuse or bullying.
One such case which sadly ended the life of a young, local man, has been purported to be linked to his suffering from racial bullying at Greenway High School. It has been said that the school was notified of the alleged bullying which apparently included name calling, assaults and threats yet school officials did little to nothing to stop it. Whether or not that is true, it begs the attention of the very real, deep-rooted issue at the core of this problem.
If people don’t start talking about the sad consequence that is suicide, we can’t prevent it because without acknowledging it we can’t understand what influenced it.
The death of Isaiah Gatimu has spurred conversation statewide, mostly focused on racial bullying and the school district’s mild response to it. It is upsetting to hear how often discrimination occurs toward those of color who want to call this community home. No one desires nor deserves to be victimized for the different colors of our hair or skin, for our state of health or state of affairs.
The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Law passed by the legislature this spring will help the state move forward with some of the strongest and most comprehensive anti-bullying measures in the country. Starting this school year, educators, parents and students will have access to more tools and resources they need for bullying prevention and intervention. We hope this will guide our area school districts in their response to cases like Isaiah.
Because no one is born a racist, this is not just a school problem but also a community problem and requires the effort of everyone to stop it. So it’s completely disheartening that it took suicide for the discussion on racial bullying to spread like wildfire. And it makes you wonder why this tragic act doesn’t spur such talk in other cases.
In this newspaper, we often receive and publish obituaries which state that the person “died after a long, courageous battle with cancer,” or other illnesses. When it is suicide it’s been typical for families to state the person “died unexpectedly,” period. Perhaps, someday, society will be able to talk about issues that have been historically hushed. Perhaps, someday, we will receive an obituary which states that the person “died from a long, courageous battle with mental illness.”
People who take their own lives do so because they are at the bottom of their will - often, they are completely depressed, sad, anxious, hurt.
We need to be brave enough to recognize suicide for the real problem that it is and be willing to listen to those who are suffering - whether from bullying, mental illness or whatever makes them feel isolated enough to end their life early. If we really listen and truly offer honest support we may be able to convince them that they can stay, they can survive.
We cannot look the other way - cannot ignore the ugliness in life like bullying or the difficulties in life like mental illness or the sadness in life like suicide. For the only way we can improve the health of our community and correct the wrongs is to pay attention, talk about it and end the ignorance.