Crow Wing County Commissioner Terry Sluss knows the grief suicide can bring.
In the mid-1970s, one of his brothers killed himself using a shotgun. In the late 1980s, a second brother hung himself. And five years ago a third brother burned himself to death.
All three were the products of a dysfunctional family.
"They all had low self-esteem," said Sluss. "In my family there was a lot of fighting." He also noted there was a history of mental illness on his mother's side of the family.
The son of a devout Catholic mother and an alcoholic father, Sluss said his family never discussed or even sought help after the first suicide.
"It's an embarrassment. Families don't like to talk about it," said Sluss about suicide in general. "It's like the old black-sheep type of family issue."
That stigma can often be as difficult to deal with as the suicide itself. Jane, which is not her real name but a pseudonym because she asked not to be identified, is a Crow Wing County resident who within the last 10 years lost her 23-year-old son and her 21-year-old daughter to suicide.
After her son committed suicide, her daughter attempted suicide on several occasions. She once tried to slit her wrists, which Jane described as a cry for help. That day Jane took her daughter to a psychologist. She was diagnosed with depression and was prescribed medication. For a time her daughter got better and stuck with her medications -- up until the final months before committing suicide.
When her son committed suicide, Jane said the shock as well as not knowing how to handle it caused her to withdraw into herself. When her daughter committed suicide, the pain was still there but she recovered faster. That pain, however, hasn't left, she said.
"I feel such a deep sorrow for my daughter," Jane said. "She worked so hard, knowing she had depression. She was diligent in taking her medications and seeing her doctors, looking for help. But we could almost see the handwriting on the wall. She started falling into a slide and going down, down, down."
In both deaths, Jane said they stopped taking their medication for depression just before committing suicide. "That's the key. I want people to know to get on it and stay on it," she said. She also said people should look for warning signs -- such as withdrawal from normal activities, not enjoying the things they used to -- and talk to that person and get them help.
"They're gone and you long for them," said Jane. "These kids, it's just so sad. They have their whole life ahead and they get into a slump, you just wish they'd realize this too shall pass and if they'd get help they'd come out of the slump."
While one brother tried to get medical help, Sluss said he wasn't aware the others were having emotional problems until after they'd committed suicide. In retrospect, he said the signs were there -- patterns of troubled behavior over the years.
Help for family members dealing with a suicide can be found in many different places. For Sluss, he left home before the dysfunction worsened, enlisting at 17 in the Air Force. It is there Sluss said he got the discipline he needed.
And though not intentionally, Sluss had chosen a professional career of helping others -- for the Brainerd School District as an academic specialist at Port Group Homes and in a political career he said is focused on mental health issues. He has become involved in the Yellow Ribbon program through the Crisis Line and Referral Service, which aims to help people suffering from symptoms of depression or having thoughts of suicide.
"If we can make every citizen in the county listen when someone talks about suicide, we can prevent it," said Sluss.
Jane turned to her faith in God.
"It has to be my faith and a support system from my family and friends. How else could I go on?" she said. "You can't keep running yourself through a guilt trip."
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