State agencies to train rural Minnesota faith leaders on suicide prevention

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There’s a program set to start this spring that’s working to address the mental health of those living in rural Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is teaming up with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) to offer suicide prevention training for faith leaders in rural communities.

MDH says rural suicide rates are as much as three times higher than the national average.

“It’s so hard to hear that, to know that statistic,” said the Rev. Jillene Gallatin, senior pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Waseca.

Gallatin believes it’s important to have a program like this.

“Suicide prevention, mental wellness is so important,” Gallatin said.

Gallatin’s mother, Mina, took her own life when Gallatin was just a young girl.

“I am so aware of that devastation, and it was a pastor that I talked with a lot to have my own big questions of why and how did this happen,” she said.

Today, Gallatin connects with her own community, and she’s thrilled to hear the state is offering free suicide prevention training for other faith leaders in rural parts of the state.

“As I recently heard about this project, this opportunity, I thought it was critical to be part of the conversation,” she said.

This free training is four weeks long. It includes some online curriculum but also includes weekly discussions with others over Zoom. It’s a topic that some feel needs to be talked about more.

“We are concerned about stress in farming communities in rural areas,” said Meg Moynihan, senior advisor at the MDA.

Whether it’s extreme flooding or drought affecting our farmland, it can take a toll.

“We want farmers to feel whole, and well, and competent, and happy about the lives they’re living,” Moynihan said.

Moynihan says this training is for all religions.

“How do I have conversations with my parishioners? How do I support people in the church community who have lost someone to suicide?” she said. “And so that’s why we’re offering this more focused training for them.”

Gallatin knows what it’s like to have someone you love take their own life. But losing her mom is a part of her ministry, and she hopes to be a light for others.

“Being a place and a person that people can come to is a gift,” Gallatin said.

The training for faith leaders in the northern half of Minnesota starts April 18; sign up here. Signups for the southern Minnesota training, which begins April 27, can be found here.

Here is a list of suicide prevention and mental health resources:

If you believe someone is at risk of suicide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests you:

  • Ask questions about whether the individual is having suicidal thoughts.
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Seek help from a medical or mental health professional. If it is an emergency situation, take the person to a hospital.
  • Remove any objects from a person’s home that could be potentially used in a suicide.
  • Do not leave the person alone, if possible, until help is available.