Fairview Range Blog

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You Being Here Matters: Raising Suicide Awareness

September is a month marked by the changing of leaves, dropping temperatures, and back-to-school routines. However, it is also a month dedicated to an issue that often remains in the shadows – National Suicide Awareness Month. This is a time to draw attention to a topic that affects countless lives worldwide, to destigmatize mental health discussions, and to foster hope and healing. We interviewed Shelly Hanson, President of the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce, and mother of Travis Nowak, who passed away from suicide in 2016. Ever since, she has been working diligently to combat the stigma around suicide and help others through The Armadillo Project

What is your connection to suicide?

I raised three young men on the Iron Range. Two of my three sons joined the military. In second grade, Travis, my middle son, knew he wanted to be a Marine. In his senior year of high school (2013), he enlisted and looked forward to fulfilling his plan and serving his country. In his final enlistment year, Travis suffered a setback, spiraling into severe depression. He didn’t have any history of mental illness, depression, or other concerns that would affect his mental well-being to the point of suicide.

 Travis came home from the military in June of 2016. We knew what we were dealing with and went to work to find resources to connect him. We were turned away from some, while others judged his actual level of depression. 

My son felt embarrassed, ashamed, frustrated, not believed, and not heard. 

Four and a half months after coming home from the service, Travis’s life ended by suicide on November 10, 2016.

If you are considering suicide as an option for your current life situation, Stop, take a few minutes, and breathe.

Today, right now, may be overwhelming. You are tired. Your world may have no color or seem to have a purpose. Sometimes, you may feel like you’re drowning while you stand or so weighed down by life that you don’t know how you got out of bed. You’re bewildered that no one sees how much you struggle on the inside while you smile on the outside. Life feels hopeless and disconnected.

While it may feel dark, you have the opportunity that tomorrow will be different, maybe better.

What would you tell people going through a similar experience? 

Suicide is permanent. There is no second chance or tomorrow.

If you know someone who you believe is contemplating suicide, ask them. People interact with others daily. Yet, they feel invisible. We need to be the someone who takes a moment, looks at them, and says, “I am worried about you. Is everything okay? Are you thinking about harming yourself?

You will not give them the idea to end their life by asking. By asking, you are letting them know you see them, and you see their struggle.

And if they are struggling, listen. Ask them what they think they need. Check-in with them. Let them know their presence here matters. Seek options, but don’t force them, shame them, judge them, or get upset. You will have many emotions. Seek out someone you can talk freely with and educate yourself on resources.   

Why is National Suicide Awareness Month important to recognize?

I feel Suicide Awareness is every day, every hour, and every minute. Having a month dedicated to focusing our attention on suicide allows us to open up the dialogue on a subject that has long been taboo to speak about. Conversations allow for the ability to exchange information and resources and connect with others who can be of support. When we remain silent, we send the message to those contemplating suicide that their feelings are not valid, and they, in turn, remain silent. When a person remains silent for too long, sometimes that silence becomes forever.

What is the Armadillo Project? 

The Armadillo Project is what Travis and I needed when he was home for 4.5 months. We needed someone to listen without judgment. We needed someone who would not make us feel ashamed that Travis was in a state of health that led him to consider suicide as an option. We needed someone who could connect with resources, navigate insurance, and advocate on our behalf.

Anything else you would like to add? 

It may take several attempts to connect with the right people or organization where you find the support you are looking for. Give yourself another tomorrow to make that connection.  

You. Being Here. Matters.


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