Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Opening up about mental health January 3, 2019

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Slowly we are beginning to remove the stigma that masks mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

FOR WEEKS, WE’D PRAYED for Lila*. I had no idea why she needed prayers. But it didn’t matter, pray we would as a church family for this friend who’d moved to another state.

A few weeks later, Lila’s husband returned, alone to Minnesota, to lead a local fundraiser. That morning he stepped up to the microphone after worship services and told us about Lila. She was hospitalized, undergoing treatment for severe depression and anxiety. I could almost hear the silent gasp. That took courage, I thought to myself.

I told Henry* the same when I later hugged him, expressed my concern and offered encouragement. He admitted to struggling with his decision to go public. But we agreed that the stigma surrounding mental health is beginning to lift, that talking about mental health issues is important and necessary. For Henry, a retired educator, his openness about Lila proved a freeing, teachable moment.

We all have much to learn on the topic, including me. Kicking depression is not a matter of simply willing yourself to feel better, to just get over whatever someone thinks you need to get over. It’s much deeper than that. Overcoming anxiety is not as simple as jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool and expecting someone to stay afloat.

I admire Henry’s decision to speak up. Likewise, I appreciate that my pastor publicly acknowledges his struggles with depression. That’s a first for me, to hear a pastor talk from the pulpit about personal mental health challenges. He’s young, of a generation seemingly more open to discussing mental health issues. The more we talk about mental illness, the better for those suffering and for loved ones and others trying to help.

Still, talk only goes so far. Waits can be long to see a mental health professional here in greater Minnesota. If you were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t be told to wait six weeks. If you had cancer, you wouldn’t be told to wait for treatment. A mental health crisis is no less important.

I am grateful to two bloggers I follow—Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio (NewsCut) and Penny Wilson (Penny Wilson Writes)—who write often on the topic of mental health. (Click here for a particularly enlightening post by Penny.) They are breaking through the stigma, opening the discussion, pointing out the challenges.

Twice in recent years I’ve stood in a snaking line at a Faribault funeral home to comfort the families of young men who committed suicide. I struggled to find the right words. I expect their loved ones struggle with the what ifs, survivor’s guilt, regrets, but, most of all, an unfathomable pain. Some grieving families are choosing now to go public in obituaries about their loved one’s struggles with depression or other mental health issues. That takes a lot of courage. We often read about a deceased person’s long and courageous battle with cancer. Battles with mental illness are no less courageous. I’m thankful to see this shift in thinking, to see people like Henry step up to a microphone and speak about mental illness.

THOUGHTS?

* Not their real names.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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From Faribault: A community poised to learn from tragedy December 28, 2016

Barbara Larson is Minnesota’s 17th known victim of domestic violence homicide in 2016. We will raise the Live Free Without Violence flag in her honor on Tuesday. We send our condolences to the community of Faribault.Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women

 

The obituaries of Barbara Larson and Richard Larson, published in Tuesday's Faribault Daily News.

The obituaries of Barbara Larson and Richard Larson, published in Tuesday’s Faribault Daily News.

YESTERDAY THE MCBW raised that “free without violence” flag honoring Barbara Larson, who was shot to death last Friday by her ex-husband at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office where she worked. Richard Larson, a retired Faribault police officer, then killed himself. Several days prior, Barbara Larson was granted a harassment restraining order against her ex-husband.

This afternoon, my community celebrates Barb’s life at her funeral. We are a community grieving, even if we didn’t personally know either Barb or Dick. I didn’t. We are a community in shock over this latest tragedy, the second murder-suicide here in December. We are a community rocked by the violence and four lives lost.

Kim has made it her mission to speak out against domestic violence. She is the voice of her sister Kay, pictured here.

This photo graphic comes from the website of Kim Sisto-Robinson, a Duluth woman who has made it her mission to be the voice of her deceased sister, Kay (shown in this photo), by speaking out on domestic violence. Kay was shot to death by her estranged husband in May 2010. Kim writes at myinnerchick.com with a deeply personal and powerful voice.

And we are a community on the cusp of an opportunity to learn, to make a difference. No one wants education to come at such great cost. But we must find a way to deal with this, heal and create change. Women need to be protected via a system that does not fail them. Mental health services need to be more available in our area. It’s not acceptable that such a shortage of mental health workers exists here that individuals must wait weeks to see a provider. Or choose the ER. Or nothing. Or something unacceptable.

We as individuals need to begin to understand and openly acknowledge issues that are all too often avoided. We need open dialogue—an opportunity to vent, share ideas and formulate solutions.

Already, community leaders, led by members of the Larson family, are discussing a campaign to raise awareness on the issues of domestic violence and mental health, according to an article published yesterday in The Faribault Daily News.

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored at The Clothesline Project display this summer in Owatonna. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women coordinates the project to honor victims of domestic violence. Redeemer Lutheran Church brought the project to Owatonna this past summer.

Faribault native Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored in The Clothesline Project in Owatonna in July 2015. Margie was murdered by her husband in March 2013. Margie’s dad once lived across the street from me.

I am beyond pleased. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I have written often about domestic violence and abuse. It’s an important topic to me because many friends and family have been affected both directly and indirectly by both.

Nothing is ever black-and-white simple. Already, anger and frustration have been expressed in comments published online on the Daily News website. That’s OK. People are talking. We all need also to make a conscious effort to listen, to educate ourselves and then do what we can to make a difference. We each have a voice. We need to stop looking the other way, pretending domestic violence and mental health issues don’t exist. They do. No matter your social, economic, educational or professional status.

Just last week four squad cars and an ambulance parked near my home early one morning while law enforcement dealt with a suicide threat in my neighborhood.

On this day, in my community, we remember Barb Larson, described as sassy and classy, upbeat and smiling—simply all-around positive.

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women..

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women, photographed in July 2015 in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It is my hope that, through Barb’s death, we as a community can come together and learn. This needs to be a concerted effort that involves all of us. I’d like to see The Clothesline Project return to Faribault. It’s a powerful visual to remember those who were murdered as a result of domestic violence or child abuse. I’d like to see increased education in the schools. I’d like to hear the stories of survivors. Who better to make a personal impact.

 

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which I got at a recent family reunion.

My HOPE stone, painted by a great niece. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

We already have a great resource with HOPE Center, which offers healing, outreach, prevention and education related to domestic violence. (Call the 24-hour safe-line at 800-607-2330.) That includes Rice County Blueprint for Safety, a collaborative inter-agency victim-centered response to domestic violence-related crimes.

 

South Central Mobile Crisis Team Info

 

We also have the South Central Mobile Crisis Team which responds on-site to help individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. I was unaware of this until the recently-published newspaper articles. I’d suggest increasing awareness via clinics, churches, schools…

Now we, individually, need also to reflect and ask, “What can I do?”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The profoundly powerful & personal Clothesline Project July 27, 2015

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Clothesline Project, music art

 

AMELIA, BEVERLY, DORIS, Katie, Prince Pope…from places like Apple Valley, Springfield, Worthington, Farmington, St. Paul and elsewhere in Minnesota…

 

Clothesline Project, 1 in 3 stats

 

In all, 23 names. Twenty-three women, children and men who lost their lives in Minnesota last year as a result of domestic violence.

 

Clothesline Project, 2 lines of t-shirts

 

To hear those names read Sunday afternoon against a backdrop of 60 white t-shirts fluttering in the breeze marked a powerful moment as the Crisis Resource Center of Steele County, Redeemer Lutheran Church and the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women brought The Clothesline Project to Owatonna’s Central Park.

The Rev. Kirk Griebel spoke to the group, read a mayoral proclamation and led a prayer.

The Rev. Kirk Griebel spoke to the group, read a mayoral proclamation and led a prayer.

The t-shirts, strung on clotheslines between trees, are “a powerful and safe witness to those who have lost their lives through domestic violence,” the Rev. Kirk Griebel said.

 

Clothesline Project, Miranda Schunk

 

He is right. To see those shirts with names and art emblazoned thereon, to read dates and details and the horrors of the victims’ deaths makes a visually powerful statement. Domestic violence becomes up close and personal.

 

Clothesline Project, Margie Brown Holland

 

Clothesline Project, info about Margie

 

So personal for me that I noted two shirts honoring Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Oliva, murdered by Margie’s husband. Margie’s dad once lived across the street from me in Faribault.

 

Clothesline Project, Rainya and Komel

 

Clothesline Project, Anarae Schunk

 

Clothesline Project, Chris Panitzke

 

I recognized so many names from media reports—Raniya and Komel Crowley, dead at the hands of their father/husband: Anarae Schunk; Christopher Panitzke…

 

Clothesline Project, Dearest Poppy

 

Words of love and grief and hope that touch the soul for the lives lost for those forever changed by the violence.

Owatonna Police Chief Keith Hiller addresses the topic of domestic violence.

Owatonna Police Chief Keith Hiller addresses the topic of domestic violence. “I will continue to pray,” he said, “that we don’t lose anyone else (to domestic violence) in our beautiful community of Owatonna.”

To hear Owatonna Police Chief Keith Hiller’s plea to “break the silence,” to understand that domestic violence is a community-wide problem is a statement worth repeating. In 2014, his department responded to 184 calls of aggravated and other assaults, many involving domestic violence. He confirmed that in the field of law enforcement, more officers are killed while responding to domestic violence calls than any other type. Family dynamics, weapons, chemical dependency and mental health issues are often involved in these heated situations, he explained.

 

Clothesline Project, in her honor

 

In a particularly chilling comment, Chief Hiller noted that in cases of strangulation, a matter of seconds may determine whether a victim survives or a t-shirt would be hung on the clothesline. Life and death in the hands of an abuser. Seconds.

 

Clothesline Project, daughter, sister

 

The police chief called for awareness and prevention, of working together. On Sunday afternoon in Owatonna, 60 t-shirts bannered that message in a deeply personal and powerful way.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

Clothesline Project, Kiela Gem

 

Clothesline Project, pink shirt

 

Laci Brune, sexual assault coordinator for the Crisis Resource Center of Steele County, reads the names of those who died as a result of domestic violence in Minnesota in 2014.

Laci Brune, sexual assault coordinator for the Crisis Resource Center of Steele County, reads the names of those who died as a result of domestic violence in Minnesota in 2014. She told attendees that, on average, a woman will leave her abuser seven or eight times before she finally leaves for good.

Details on a t-shirt.

Details on a t-shirt honoring Nancy A. Sullivan, 57, of Shoreview, who died on June 4, 2013. These words are written on her shirt: “Safety is a basic human right!”

 

Clothesline Project, t-shirts in a row

 

Clothesline Project, t-shirts in a row, green design

 

Clothesline Project, Never forget

 

FYI: If you are in a relationship that doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If your gut is telling you something is wrong, trust your instincts. If words and behavior differ, if red flags are popping up, if you feel like your partner may be lying or using you, believe yourself, not him/her.

Domestic abuse is about control and manipulation. It can take the forms of physical (including sexual), mental, emotional, financial and spiritual abuse.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Have a safe plan to leave. When you leave an abuser, it is the most dangerous time for you.

Seek help from a local resource center or safe house. Or call the National Domestic Violence Helpline at 1-800-799-7233. You deserve to be free.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thrivent Financial funded bringing The Clothesline Project to Owatonna.

 

Choosing to see black and blue March 16, 2015

IF YOU ARE PART OF A FAITH community, what is your church doing to raise awareness and help victims, survivors and families/friends of those involved in domestic violence/abuse?

Nothing? Something?

I hadn’t considered this in depth until reading an article, Aiming for AWARENESS, CARING RESPONSE—Domestic violence task force to hold spring training sessions, in the March issue of Reporter, the official newspaper of The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

A snippet of the domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

A snippet of the domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

Additionally, the paper includes an insert, Domestic Violence and Abuse is Everyone’s Concern—There Are No Gender Or Socioeconomic Barriers, for posting in churches.

I am pleased to see the LCMS working on this issue which has been so much in the public eye in recent months. It’s important that clergy, parish nurses and other church workers understand domestic abuse and learn how to assist by listening, by offering help, hope and referrals, and by educating parishioners.

I’ve read conflicting data on the number of women who experience domestic violence. Some sources say one in three. Others one in six. Whatever the correct number, one is one too many. (Note here that I am well aware that men are also victims. But, since the majority are women, that is the reference I am using in this post.)

Among people I am connected to, either directly or indirectly, 10 women have been/are being abused. Two of them were murdered by the men who supposedly loved them.

Last year in Minnesota, at least 23 individuals were killed due to violence from a current or former intimate partner, according to a report issued by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. You can read that full report by clicking here.

As LCMS Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Task Force Chair Kim Schave says, “Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone.”

Don’t think it can’t.

And let’s remember the secondary victims—children, parents, siblings, friends… They, too, need support, encouragement and healing.

The faith-based Salvation Army South Africa’s recent campaign, WHY IS IT SO HARD TO SEE BLACK AND BLUE, utilizing a photo of that infamous black and blue striped (or gold and white striped depending on what you see) dress is brilliant. A subtext published in the Cape Times newspaper stated, “The only illusion is if you think it was her choice.”

While I still cannot see a black and blue dress, the message is absolutely clear to me. We all need to start seeing domestic abuse in all its forms. Sometimes the abuse is visible. Often it is not. Emotional abuse (lies, manipulation, controlling behavior, etc.) is even more common than physical abuse. Domestic abuse can also take the form of spiritual abuse.

We need to understand that these women are not to blame for the abuse inflicted upon them. We need to understand that they are being manipulated/controlled/brainwashed. We need to understand that “love” and mind control are powerful. We need to understand that we cannot simply swoop in and “rescue” them.

Knowledge is power.

What have you learned about domestic abuse in recent months with the spotlight shining on the issue? What are you doing with that knowledge? If you are part of a faith community, what is your church doing, if anything? Do you know a survivor of domestic abuse or someone currently in an abusive situation (no names or identifying details, please)? Let’s hear your voice and insights.

FYI: If you are in an abusive situation, contact the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

I’d encourage you to learn more about domestic violence from a personal perspective by checking out (click here) “My Inner Chick,” a blog written by a Minnesota woman whose sister was abused and murdered by her husband. Be sure to read the comments section. This blog and the comments posted therein are powerful.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling