What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
On May 30, 2022, I lost my sweet, sweet dad to suicide.
Before suicide personally affected my family, I was like many. I thought that suicide only affected people who have always struggled with mental health, had recently experienced severe trauma, or had difficult home lives. I was so wrong.
Suicide does NOT discriminate and can affect anyone. My dad did not check any previous beliefs about who suicide affects. He was happily married and had five kids who loved him dearly. He ran a successful company for many years, Swenson Bros Marine, and had just entered into a place of semi-retirement. He was always our biggest cheerleader and had the biggest smile on his face. In a small community, he was the one who was always called on for help, and he never let anyone down. He was always the “man for the job” and took care of anyone and everyone he could.
In the months before his death, my dad had been making many plans for his newfound “freedom” and was looking forward to trips with friends and family, watching his kids grow, spoiling grandkids, and enjoying many days boating and relaxing on the Missouri River with his family and friends … one of his favorite things to do in the entire world.
With one phone call, my world changed forever. My dad was always the one I could go to for help, for advice, to celebrate, to cry… he was truly “the man for the job” – and he was no longer here. Between telling my 10-year-old youngest brother how his dad died, to hearing story after story of how my dad helped someone else in the same spot, he found himself in before taking his own life, to learning how my dad cared for and supported others (many who were strangers) nearly daily without any recognition… The days and weeks following my dad’s death were the hardest times of my life. The world is dimmer without his love and light.
A year later, I still grieve my dad every single day. Suicide robbed my dad, and everyone he loved, of so much. My family’s hearts will ache over the loss of my dad forever, but we also know there is so much more joy ahead. And we hold onto that.
I’ll end by sharing the last paragraph of my dad’s obituary: “Jimmer cared about everyone so much that he forgot to take care of himself. If you are struggling or feel lost, please reach out to one of us or someone you love. There is no judgment, no condemnation. You are not alone, you matter, and you are loved.”
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
I have an incredible family and significant other who have — time and time again — given me the space and ability to share my feelings and emotions. I have also read multiple books and listened to many podcasts on mental health and suicide. I also hold tightly to my faith in Jesus and the promises I have that I will be able to hug my dad and hear his laugh again, someday.
Think about the system that affects our mental health in our society, including aspects of it that are damaging to mental health and aspects of the system that improve mental health. Based on your experience, how might we improve that system to build resilience and better address the mental health needs of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities?
In the year 2021,
- South Dakota experienced its highest suicide death rate ever recorded. (22.6 deaths per 100,000)
- Suicide was the leading cause of death among ages 10-29 in SD. (2021)
- South Dakota had the 7th highest suicide rate in the US.
We talk until we are blue in the face about the dangers of drugs, not wearing seatbelts, drinking and driving, etc. … commercials and billboards galore—but we are failing to have open, honest conversations to discuss one of the leading causes of death of people in our state.
Mental health and suicide both have a stigma attached to them, but they shouldn’t. Mental health IS health, and we need to strive to become comfortable with the uncomfortable… It’s time we step into the arena, share our stories, and start shining light into the darkness. By sharing our stories, we let others know they are not alone.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
I know it sounds cliché… but truly, the world is a better place with you in it. You are not alone, you matter and you are so, so loved.