Chris and Audra Dishman were together since they were 14 years old – he was a football player and she was a cheerleader in a small, rural Nebraska town.

Chris would eventually play football for the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and was later drafted by the Cardinals and played one year for the Rams. Through all of life’s changes, Audra cheered him on. The couple had two children – Taylor and Tim – and they enjoyed an extended, loving group of family and friends. Then, last August, Chris Dishman said he lost, “the love of his life” to suicide. In a matter of weeks, life changed for everyone in the family – forever.

After allowing some time to pass, Dishman decided to be part of the Seward County Suicide Prevention Coalition after a member of the group asked him and because his family had been helped by their services in their time of need. Lacey Bessinger works with the commission and explained its purpose, “The mission of the coalition is to engage our communities in preventing suicide by increasing prevention and postvention strategies. We believe we can achieve that by reducing the stigma around suicide and that it is vitally important to advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. We believe that suicide is preventable and that postvention is good prevention. Lastly, we believe everyone in our community has a role in preventing suicide.”

“The Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) team consists of trained survivors and mental health professionals acting as volunteers to bring immediate support to survivors of suicide,” Bessinger went on to explain. “The LOSS program is designed to get folks who have walked the walk of suicide survivorship to recent suicide sufferers much earlier.”

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in Nebraska. On average, one person dies by suicide every 36 hours in the state. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34, fourth leading cause of death for ages 35-54, and eighth leading cause of death for ages 55-64. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also reports the suicide rate for farmers and farm workers has increased 34 percent since 2000 and currently is at 1.5 percent higher than the national average, although it is believed that the numbers may actually be much higher as many deaths get ruled as farm accidents, Bessinger noted.

“This is where our neighbors, friends, and family need to come together as a community. Talk with your family and friends – check-in with them. Don’t worry about giving them ideas, asking someone if they feel like harming themselves is not giving them an idea that they haven’t thought of, but it may save their life,” she said adamantly. “In rural areas, suicide prevention can be more difficult because houses are usually more spread out, access to mental health resources can be limited and access to lethal means, particularly firearms are generally higher than in urban areas.”

“We need to get rid of the stigma of mental health,” Dishman said. “I didn’t understand before this happened either. Now I read journal articles on anxiety and mental issues, because I want to understand it more. It’s not about just saying stop to people, because if they could, they would.”

“Mental health effects all socioeconomic groups,” Dishman added. “It doesn’t matter the color of your skin or the amount of money in your bank account. That is why it’s so important for us to break the stigma.”

“I could not get through this without my support group. I have some of the best friends in the world and my family is very supportive. Now I just want to go out and be a compassionate person and help people understand they are not alone. You never know that next person you may come across who may be having the worst day of their life,” he said.

Dishman said opening up to others has really helped him deal with his own emotions – everything from anger, to shock to pain and heartbreak, “I always thought I would be the first one to go. So now I am focusing more on my health and reading these mental health journals. Next year, I want to run a 5K in her honor, because I know I have to be here for my kids. I am grieving, but I want to work through all of this by helping make other people happy. As people, we have to just love each other.”

Walk for Hope will be held at the Concordia Walz Fieldhouse in Seward, Neb. at 6 p.m. on February 15, 2020. Organizers would like the entire community to get involved and come out and Walk for Hope in remembrance of someone you may have lost to suicide or in support of others who have lost loved ones to suicide. The Seward County Suicide Prevention Coalition will be there as well as the The Four Corners LOSS Team that can be contacted at 402-710-2161.

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