‘Let’s talk’: Group wants to engage community conversation

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One of the things I enjoy doing on a Saturday night involves watching YouTube videos from the talent shows such as America’s Got Talent and Voice which are so popular now.

It’s the inspirational stories behind these acts which can be so powerful such as that provided by Jane Kristen Marczewski, whose stage name is Nightbirde. She received the “golden buzzer” for her original song, “It’s Okay.”

Jane’s story is inspirational and yet so very sad.

On stage, Jane shared that she had cancer in her lungs, spine and liver and had a two-percent chance of surviving. Two percent is better than nothing, she noted. She died this past February.

But then came the really interesting, profound comment, “It is so important that people know that I am so much more than the bad things that happen to me.”

There are no truer words and it seems this should be a personal philosophy that we should all keep close to our hearts.

This next week there is a couple coming to Galena who exemplify this personal philosophy. Ellen and Tom Harris have experienced horrific loss and pain, have risen above and beyond that and created the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation to help others go beyond their loss and pain.

In 2012, their daughter, Jordan, was preparing to return to the University of Michigan from the family home in Texas. She’d been dealing with depression and had agreed to seek counseling upon returning.

The day before leaving, she went off to do volunteer work and never returned home. She’d taken her own life. The term is suicide. On her computer back home were the telltale signs she was looking for a therapist in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Ellen says, “She felt as though she was going to be a burden to us and that was the decision she made.”

This “funny, irreverent and smart young woman who made everyone be the best version of themselves,” had developed “severe depression.” She had been seeing a therapist and even though the prescribed medications weren’t working, Jordan seemed to be doing better.

Tom and Ellen funneled their grief and created the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation in 2014.

The goal is to shed light on the darkest of topics: depression and suicide. By doing that, they want to peck away at the stigma of depression and suicide bit by bit.

People don’t talk about depression and suicide because of the stigma, Ellen says.

Education is one way the foundation goes about doing this. One program involves training young people in the Hope Squad curriculum (jordanharrisfoundation.org/hope-squad) where young people are trained to look for signs of depression and suicide in their peers and then take that information to a trusted adult.

Ellen says studies show that young people who struggle are more comfortable sharing their situation with peers rather than adults.

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The other is QPR: Question, Persuade and Refer. This 45-minute training helps one recognize changed behavior or catch warning signs. This training is offered free to the public.

The foundation also pecks away at the stigma by fostering community conversations. That is what is happening in Galena this next Thursday. But, first, some background.

On Oct. 1, an entourage of bicyclists supported by the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation left Lake Itasca in Minnesota in what is called the Light the Trail ride. If all goes to plan, this entourage will arrive in New Orleans, La., Oct. 14. Yes, that’s 1,800 miles.

Groups of four riders at a time tackle a third of the route each day.

Galena is an overnight stop on this route. On Thursday, Oct. 6, the riders leave LaCrosse at 9 a.m., cross over into Iowa at Prairie du Chien, Wis., head down to Dubuque, Iowa and then back over the Mississippi River past Sinsinawa Mound, onto High Ridge Road and then into Galena via West and North Council Hill roads.

The purpose of this ride is to shed light on an understanding of depression and suicide.

Once in Galena, the group will meet in the parking lot of the old Galena railroad station at the corner of Park Avenue and Bouthillier Street at 5 p.m. Their hope is that community members will join them for a “Let’s Talk” talk session.

“Our goal is to create a safe space to talk,” Ellen says.

There will be some conversation about the foundation. She doesn’t want to make the conversation all about her daughter, but more about preventing suicide. She’s open to talking about what happened “and how pretty clueless we were. Never in our wildest dreams did we think this was something Jordan would have chosen to do.”

As Ellen is willing to share her story, she wants to hear the stories offered up by others and experiences they’ve had. It’s an opportunity to learn, share and collaborate.

It’s a way to chip away at the stigma. It’s a way to chip away at our tendency to shy away from talking about two issues–depression and suicide–that profoundly impact families and friends.

Somehow we need to move from “Let’s not talk about that” to “Let’s talk about that.”

That’s chipping away at stigma.

If you want more information on the foundation, visit jordanharrisfoundation.org or for the ride, lightthetrailride.org.

by P. Carter Newton,

publisher

cnewton@galgazette.com

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