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Contemplating loss: Acts of Solace Project develops suicide awareness through stories

Readers in the play Acts of Solace include front, from left, Jode Freyholtz-London, Mim Maas, Juanita Blackhawk and Kim Bollig. Back, from left, Travis Simon, Cara Newberry and Tom London. Anna Erickson/Pioneer Journal1 / 2
Acts of Solace reader Juanita Blackhawk told stories from those dealing with deep grief and loneliness during her performance Saturday. Anna Erickson/Pioneer Journal2 / 2

True stories and monologues from people in the region are highlighted in the Acts of Solace Project.

The premiere of the performance was Saturday, Feb. 4 at Cyber Cafe in Wadena.

Peer-run mental health nonprofit Wellness in the Woods has partnered with community-based theatre artist Haley Honeman to develop a performance aimed at fostering awareness about suicide in the region through stories.

"We did more than 70 interviews in the region and figured out how to put those stories together into a meaningful monologue," Honeman said.

Readers Juanita Blackhawk, Kim Bollig , Jode Freyholtz-London, Tom London, Mim Maas, Cara Newberry and Travis Simon previewed the first draft of the script and hoped to get feedback for a full production in the summer. The group also hopes to develop the performance for other settings such as a school or church.

The readers described the shame and judgement associated with suicide.

Blackhawk told stories from those dealing with deep grief and loneliness during her performance Saturday. After the performance, Blackhawk said she was particularly moved by the monologue because she has experienced suicide in her family.

"Don't be afraid to talk about this," said Freyholtz-London, who is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Wellness in the Woods. "Our goal is to get the word out and silence the stigma."

Wellness in the Woods has a mission to transform wellness into reality by partnering with rural Minnesota individuals and communities to embrace the eight dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, vocational, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental and financial.

Wellness in the Woods specializes in advocacy and education work with and for persons with a mental health lived experience and hold each community member in unconditional high regard by providing wellness and strength based services in rural Minnesota.

One monologue during the performance described someone who couldn't stand the loneliness after her husband died. Another monologue was from a soldier struggling with PTSD.

The play was interspersed with facts about suicide and resources available to those who are struggling.

In 2015 there were 726 suicide deaths reported in Minnesota, up from 686, or an increase of 6 percent, from 2014. The 2015 rate was 13.1 per year per 100,000 Minnesotans up from 12.2 in 2014. Previously, the highest rate was 13 per 100,000 in 1986 (541 deaths). Firearms continue to be the leading method of suicide.

In addition, roughly 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs released in 2016.

Acts of Solace also described the role the community can play in supporting each other.

There are resources in the Wadena area to help people struggling with emotional issues and suicidal thoughts, including Peer Support Connection. The mission is to strengthen the mental health community through peer-to-peer support, public education and advocacy. Call (844) 739-6369 to talk with someone about emotional distress and struggles.

In addition there is a 24/7 Crisis and Referral phone line at (800) 462-5525, which has someone staffed day and night. Tri-County Health Care has support groups and primary care providers can be a resource.

After receiving feedback on the performance, it will be reworked so it can be used as a resource for other groups in the area with the hope to increase awareness of suicide and decrease the stigma.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561
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