Each year, 44,965 Americans die by suicide. — AFSP.org*
…that’s like wiping out most of the population of Campbell County.
On average, there are 123 suicides each day [in the U.S.]. — AFSP.org
….that’s almost equivalent to the 2017 graduating class of Westwood High School.
Do those statistics unnerve you? They should.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and in 2016 Wyoming ranked 3rd nationwide in state suicide rates. 82717 alone lost 11 people to suicide in 2017, 8 in 2016, and 13 in 2015. While those numbers are lower than some previous years, they’re not low enough.
On May 8th, 2015, 15-year-old Kaden Simonson took his life. Since then, his mother Trish Simonson has passionately moved to the forefront of suicide prevention and awareness in Campbell County: heading organizations like Students that Care, and Gillette’s Project Sem;Colon (inspired by the national Project Semicolon movement) with her husband, Mike, at her side. Part of their efforts to prevent suicide — and the stigma surrounding it — include offering a scholarship to local graduates.
On March 13th, I had the opportunity to sit down with Trish and Mike to talk about suicide prevention, their upcoming event, and the scholarships it funds:
What are you guys currently working on in your suicide prevention efforts?
Trish: We are working on the scholarship, because it’s coming up soon on May 8th. This year, we kind of stepped back (from previous Project Sem;Colon activities). We did do the commercial for the radio station, and we have been doing the stuff for the 5K, but we did take a break just to kind of step back and figure out our lives. After you lose someone to suicide… It’s such a different death. It’s not like an accident, or a disease. When you lose someone to suicide you are ridden with guilt, and shame, and… It just leaves so many unanswered questions. “Why weren’t we good enough for him?” If he just would’ve looked past that moment… I know it was an impulsive decision. I think if people could just see… Just stop, and really think about… When you take your life, you don’t ever leave the chance for anything to get better. And, that’s what we want people to see, is that one bad moment does not equal a bad life.
Tell us about the purpose behind the 5K and scholarships?
Trish: The scholarships, to us, aren’t exactly about suicide. They are about hope and resilience and strength…. You know, the scholarship is so important to us and the 5K is important. Because, the people who come and participate, a lot of them are survivors of suicide, which, a suicide survivor is not someone who survives a suicide attempt… It’s someone left behind because of suicide. We have a LOT of suicide survivors in this town, and we have a lot of people who suffer from suicide ideations. And, they come to the 5K and they tell us, “You know what? This inspires me. This inspires me to keep going.” The 5K is ran mostly by high school students, and it’s so inspiring to see that the youth are coming and taking action like that. The 5K… it helps Mike and I think (and, I hope that) we are making a difference. You know, maybe there is that one kid who just thought, “I don’t want to live anymore. Why should I live?” And yet, maybe he heard our message. Maybe he wrote an essay. Maybe he got a scholarship… and because of that he decided, “I can do this”.
What is the process for offering scholarships to local youths?
Trish: Well, we have sponsors that help us to raise money for the race so that we can pay for the overhead costs, like the posters and the shirts. Mike and I try to cover as much of the overhead as we possibly can, because we want as much money as possible to go into the scholarships. But, basically the money from the 5K goes into the scholarship fund. We, in the past, have given out twenty $250 scholarships because we just couldn’t narrow it down. There were so many good essays! This year, since college expenses are so high, we’ve decided to narrow it down to ten $500 scholarships. But, we are hoping we get a lot of people showing up for the race because we want to be able to give out extra scholarships and it is just so hard to choose, especially since we now have Thunder Basin, Westwood, and Campbell County High Schools. And, Wright’s also included in that, too! We got our first essay from Wright this year. Then, we present the scholarships on Scholarship Night.
Mike: If there’s anybody out there who wants to sponsor in the future, they can sure get ahold of us!
How should people contact you to become a 5K sponsor?
Trish: They can call either Mike or I. Mike’s number is (307) 299-9613, and mine is (307) 299-9640. We also take donations, and have an EIN number so that we can provide a tax-deductible receipt. We aren’t yet listed as a non-profit, but it might be in the cards soon. The 5K is the only fundraising event for the scholarship each year. But, we’ve had such a great turnout every year, and the community has been so supportive!
Where can people find a 5K registration form?
Trish: They can be found at the Campbell County Recreation Center, Club Energize, and we have a copy available on our Facebook page, “Gillette’s Project Sem;Colon”. The City also sends them to all city employees, and the Campbell County Courthouse sends them to all county employees, as does the school district and the hospital. Everybody’s really receptive, which is great! I think that’s because you can’t talk to a single person in this entire community that hasn’t somehow been touched by suicide or known somebody… unless maybe they’re brand new here. I once heard a statistic that each suicide affects 120 people. And, I believe that, because at Kaden’s funeral… there was no room in the church. There are kids that are still affected by his choice, he still has friends that are affected.
Do you have aspirations to expand fundraising efforts in the near future?
Trish: I do. Just ask Mike, I’m full of ideas all the time! It’s just moving forward with them… I definitely want to find more sponsors. I really suck at asking for money. I just feel guilty, which, I don’t know why because I’m asking for money so that people can help our youth to further their education goals. I need to get past that. But we do want to start asking bigger companies and organizations to support the cause, and eventually we want to turn Gillette’s Project Sem;colon into a non-profit. Our big goal is for Project Sem;colon to really be a place of resource in Gillette. Nationwide funding for suicide prevention has been cut substantially, but in the recent budget session $1M was allocated for suicide prevention in Wyoming. I think last year Wyoming ranked 2nd or 3rd in the United States for suicide rates? Mental health is a huge problem…
Mike: You’ve got to have the right people in the right place, and with the right tools.
Trish: Well, and in Wyoming we live in such a rural community. For a lot of our citizens, it’s hard to get to places; we have a lot of ranchers, we have a lot of small towns, and we just don’t have any outreach for them.
Mike: And there’s such a stigma, too. Most people still don’t want to talk about it.
Trish: Yeah, and that’s what we’re trying to do with our efforts locally, we want to end that stigma. Because, I think if we continue on with that, people who are seriously thinking about taking their own life, they’re not ever going to get help. Mike and I always tell people, the bravest thing you’ll ever do is get help.
By: Bailey I. Knopp for 82717
Republished with permission.