University of Mary hosts free national virtual suicide prevention event and documentary Monday, March 15, 2021, 6 p.m. CDT with movie producer, survivor, and statewide experts

 

Emma Benoit

BISMARCK, ND — On June 7, 2017, Emma Benoit, a 16-year-old high school cheerleader, while home alone called her mom at work hoping she could be calmed down from a panic attack. Benoit’s anxiety and depression that she had been hiding from her parents became too much. When her mom had to take a work call and put her daughter on hold, Benoit decided the time had come to end her life by shooting herself in the chest.

“I knew what had happened — I felt the pain, I tasted the gunpowder and felt the blood pooling behind me,” explained Benoit in an interview with the St. Charles Herald Guide in a January 2021 article. “Instant doesn’t even suffice — it doesn’t describe how quickly my feelings shifted from one thing to the next,” she said. “It was very, very immediate that I just had that intense shift of perspective.”

When Benoit’s mom came back to the phone conversation with her daughter and there was no response, she raced home. According to the newspaper, there were many moments Benoit felt out-of-body experiences lying there waiting for her mom to arrive. When her mom arrived after a 20-minute drive from work, she called 911.

“It was like a movie,” she said. “I really did have that moment of just playing back moments of my life – it was kind of almost like God was showing me why this was the biggest mistake ever. The last thing I remember was my mom coming into the room.”

Today, the paralyzed Louisiana native is thankful and blessed God saved her life that day. She is using her second chance at life to save the lives of others who may or may not be contemplating suicide. She is able to tell her story through a new documentary directed and produced by Greg Dicharry called My Ascension. The documentary film is making its national public debut at the University of Mary Social Work event Monday, March 15, 6 p.m. Central Time. The online event, sponsored by the University of Mary Liffrig Family School of Education and Behavioral Sciences and hosted by its social work program, is free and open to the public audience — locally, regionally and nationally. The event begins with the documentary debut followed by a panel discussion featuring Benoit, Dicharry, founder and director of Sources of Strength Mark LoMurray, and co-founder of the ND Suicide Prevention Coalition and assistant director of Summit Counseling Services Alison Traynor. Those who wish to attend can RSVP at http://www.umary.edu/MyAscension. By attending and participating in this virtual event, the University of Mary is providing free continuing education units for licensed social workers and licensed law enforcement officers through their respective licensing boards.

Coordinating this event is University of Mary’s Heidi Nieuwsma, chair of the behavioral sciences department and Katie Krukenberg, assistant professor of social work and director of field education. According to the 2019 North Dakota Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), respectively, those high school students surveyed in North Dakota’s grades nine through 12, 18.8 percent said they seriously considered attempting suicide compared to 8.9 percent nationally.

Heidi Nieuwsma, University of Mary Chair of the Behavioral Sciences Department

“Statistics tell us that education and prevention are two of the most effective strategies used to reduce suicides in our nation,” added Nieuwsma. “This large-scale event is intended to bring a large group of people together that have one common goal — to reduce suicide attempts and suicide completions. Suicidal thinking is on the rise and as a way to live out our University of Mary mission, we want to contribute to our community and do what we can to help reduce these preventable deaths. Although we know a great deal about risk factors for suicide, accurately predicting whether or not an individual person who may have a number of risk factors is going to be someone who dies by suicide is not something that we are good at. While knowing risk factors is helpful, we need to improve educating on prevention methods. This film is one of those methods of prevention and draws each of us in personally regardless of where you live, your age, gender, race, life experiences, or your beliefs. It provides us with real life experiences to draw upon when reflecting on events in our lives. Regardless, if you are a student, a professional, a parent, a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, etc., you will be moved in some way by this documentary.”

Also, according to the state survey, 25.5 percent of those seriously considering suicide were females, just like Benoit. Nationally, female students attempted almost twice as often as male students — 11 percent to 6.6 percent, respectively.

Katie Krukenberg,
University of Mary Assistant Professor of Social Work and Director of Field Education.

Almost everyone has known someone in their own lives impacted by suicide, yet it is a topic that still carries such stigma around it,” said Krukenberg. “The more awareness we can bring to this topic, the better equipped everyone will be to encounter the people in their own lives, whether personally or professionally. The pandemic has brought an increase in concerns related to suicide for so many reasons, but it has also given us a better opportunity than ever to connect with people virtually. The last year has magnified the need for conversations about suicide, has pushed the mental health community to respond in new and creative ways, and has given us better platforms than ever to connect with people virtually. We are so excited to be able to offer this event to help start a conversation about a hard topic. This film is incredibly moving and will help us all to think about ways we can actively combat suicide in our communities all over the United States.

Perhaps even more alarming for North Dakota, the number of students seriously considering suicide increases for junior high students to 22.1 percent in grades seven through eight.

“As a parent and as a social worker in North Dakota, it is impossible not to look at this data and feel called to do something more,” added Krukenberg. “It is devastating to think of any of our youth considering suicide, but to see how much higher than the national average our North Dakota students are is something that we as a community have to take seriously. This film really highlights some of the dynamics that community members can be aware of and starts a conversation about the hard topic of suicide.”

Benoit felt a calling from God to not only tell her story, but also be an advocate for suicide prevention. After praying about it and encouragement from her mother, they created a website and blog appropriately called www.liferejuvenated.org. That’s how Dicharry stumbled on Benoit’s story in preparation for his feature-length documentary that also includes two remarkable young people who did not survive their attempts.

“There was extreme hesitation on my part,” Benoit told the St. Charles Herald Guide newspaper. “I was ashamed, and I was embarrassed, and I had all those feelings. I was not eager to share my story and pushed it off for a while.”

Just like that, Benoit’s mind went from a life not worth living to one now dedicated to not only saving lives, but also helping many others cope with various aspects of suicide.