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Commentary: Madissen’s story should be a call to action for all of us

Shane Paulsen, I can't imagine the pain you are in. ("Grieving Devils Lake father raising awareness after 11-year-old daughter dies by suicide," published to Inforum Dec. 13)

I'm so very sorry. Know that you and all who loved Madissen are wrapped in love. Thank you for your honesty in sharing Madissen's story. It is a call to action. Your courage is remarkable and a gift to all of us. May you find the peace that passes all understanding.

To everyone else — if you haven't watched or read about Shane Paulsen's daughter, find in on Inforum. Share it on Facebook and then take action.

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, everyone— learn how to foster mental wellness in your home. Learn and understand the signs of mental distress. Talk with your kids about their mental health, including caring for themselves and their friends. Get them help if they need it. If you aren't sure, err on the side of caution and reach out for help. There is no shame in caring for and protecting your child's health.

If you don't have a kid in your life—find one. Volunteer with Big Brother Big Sister, call Firstlink, connect with community groups that actively support youth. Find opportunities to be a part of a child's village.

The 2017 North Dakota Youth Risk Survey was released last week. More than 1 in 4 high school students indicate they may be struggling with a mental health issue. More than 13 percent have attempted suicide. Trends predict a continued increase in mental health conditions. National research shows that as many as 80 percent of children and adolescents with a mental illness will go without care. These are not "bad kids." They have a medical condition that needs care, resources and support.

This is a heartbreaking and frustrating tragedy because mental illnesses are highly treatable. And just like physical conditions, the sooner they are caught and treated, the better the outcome. We, society, are failing our children. We must do better.

Imagine Thriving, a local nonprofit working to ensure that all students have access to mental health education and care, is screening Not Alone, a 50-minute documentary on student mental health created by students on Jan. 31 at the Fargo Theatre. You can watch a trailer at www.ImagineThriving.org/notalone. Following the documentary, there will be a panel discussion with a student, parent, educator and mental health professional. Come and bring your kids.

Imagine Thriving is also collaborating with the North Dakota Family Based Services Association to bring national speaker Tina Meier to Fargo. Meier's daughter Megan was also bullied, leading to her suicide at 13. Meier started the Megan Meier Foundation and now travels the country educating students, educators and communities about bullying and suicide. There will be a series of community presentations. Watch our Facebook page for more details.

There are huge systemic issues that need to change, which should include legislative action and funding for mental health resources. But each and every one of us can take action to do our part to protect and care for our children and our own mental health the same way we do our physical health. Until mental health is taken as seriously as physical health we will continue to see children and adults struggle, suffer with addiction, self-harm and death.

Tow is executive director of Imagine Thriving.

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