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#LetsStartTalking brings speakers to Dysart for suicide prevention

April 12, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Dysart Reporter

Real life experiences regarding mental illness and suicide prevention were brought to the stage as #LetsStartTalking came to Dysart on Wednesday, April 3 in the Community Building, sponsored by Hatch Grading and Contracting.

Speakers from Alive and Running based in Dunkerton told their stories one at a time for attendees from across the area, including students, a youth group and parents open to listening and learning. Chelsea from Dunkerton was the first speak to come on stage, bringing her emotional support dog along with her. Chelsea attempted to take her life three years ago and failed, learning that suicide doesn't solve your problems and she realized she could have missed so much in her life (ex. Friends grad party) if she were not around. She encouraged her audience to talk about their feelings with someone they trust and to be there rather than simply judge. ?Next up was Lacy, who lost her brother to suicide two years ago. She got a phone call from him in Oregon suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder and threatening to shot himself. The two close siblings argued with another before he hung up. Immediately, Lacy got a hold of the police as she was taking a friend to the airport. Later, she got a call from her brother's boss saying he went through with the attempt. A "Landslide of emotions" hit Lacy after bringing her brother back home and she suffered from PTSD and mental illness herself. Slowly over time, she started getting help to be there for her children. She Connected with others like her, including Alive and Running, and started sharing his story through the organization at events such as the one in Dysart. Founded in 2010 by Troy Belmer and another partner Alive and Running started as a 5K and morphed into a two-day event with a remembrance day followed by the 5K/walk. A non-profit, the organization was started after a friend committed suicide.

"For individuals, opening up is seen a sign of weakness," Belmer said. "We've grown up in an era where people say 'suck it up' or 'life is just hard' instead of taking an approach of 'what can we do to help?' We want to create the conversation, to let people know we are out there to provide education for their own conversations." ?Tehya Tournier is another individual touched by Alive and Running. A freshman at Iowa State University and 2018 Cedar Falls graduate, she started #LetsStartTalking, a fundraiser for Alive and Running. Tournier ost a classmate, Chase Sanders, her senior year and wanted to create an event to discuss mental illness in light of the tragedy. After being denied by the Cedar Falls school board, she made her own event with classmate Sarah Wagner with the help of Belmer. Tournier discussed how she grew up with suicide and seeing people not wanting to talk about it or simply making fun of mental illness. She urged people to get help and resources if they need it, using her new platform to help further the conversation. ?"#LetsStartTalking has grown tremendously and picked up over our two events," Tournier said. "Whenever you're struggling with thoughts of suicide or mental health, it's ok to not be ok. These issues are so prominent in society and we need to keep bringing it up to destigmatize it."?

Article Photos

Tehya Tournier speaks about the #LetsStartTalking movement and her mission to encourage people to talk about mental illness more openly and respectfully.

Sarah Wagner, also a Cedar Falls 2018 grad, connected with Tehya over efforts to create a suicide prevention event in honor of Chase Sanders. She too was denied by the school board and teamed up with Tournier. Wagner's family struggles with mental illness and came to realize her problems weren't so unique. She would be diagnosed with anxiety and depression. While still going through trial and error to this day, Wagner started a blog to share her experience and show it isn't something to be embarrassed about.

"Speaking puts them in a vulnerable position in sharing stories of their own struggles," Belmer said. "They share stories of loss in front of 200 people they don't know, but people come to these events with an open mind. We hope everyone gets materials to take home. Mental health isn't something we talk about just once."

The final speaker was Abby, a previous Alive and Running scholarship winner. She lost her father to suicide and alcoholism. A creature of habit, she went back to her high school routine and was "fine" for the remainder of her year. College brought back the pain for her and made it harder to concentrate on studies. Over time, she worked a professor and then started presenting about her struggles, which Abby felt helped her more than anything else. She is currently planning a wedding and admits she is "angry all over again" knowing her father won't be around to walk her down the aisle.

"I want people to come away with hope, including these kids who have a faith in Christ or even don't have a faith," Belmer said. "This can all happen to someone with a faith. No is immune, but the support from the communities of Dysart and Traer was phenomenal in helping this conversation move forward."

The event was brought to Dysart in light of a Hatch employee committing suicide in February. Kori Hatch didn't know the signs of mental illness and reached out to Belmer for an event.

"None of us knew he was depressed and Troy brought in the speakers for us," Hatch said. "I had no idea what to expect, but they were telling me this could be a big event because of all the talk going on. We put out 200 chairs for this and most were full."

Hatch hopes this event brings more awareness to the community and was encouraged to see Union School District involved in promotion as well as local youth.

"I've know the Hatchs for several years and after losing an employee to suicide, Kori reached out to me about they could do," Belmer said. "They picked a venue and we came down and lined up speakers."

To learn more about Alive and Running, check out Anyone needing help can call 1-800-273-TALK. ?



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