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Published June 03 2010

Group to open suicide prevention office

Since Clark Flatt’s 16-year-old son committed suicide, he’s pushed for increased education about youth suicide among parents and teachers across the country.

“No one had ever educated me (on suicide) – they told me about drugs, alcohol, even bullying,” he said. “Suicide is a legitimate threat.”

It’s a message he’s now bringing to North Dakota parents.

On Wednesday, he announced that his nonprofit organization, The Jason Foundation, will open its 86th office in the country at Prairie St. John’s in Fargo – the first in North Dakota.

The foundation provides free educational resources to parents, teachers and the community to help prevent youth suicide.

Over the past five years, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem pressed Flatt to bring his Tennessee-based foundation to the state.

The need is here.

In 2009, 12.4 percent of North Dakota ninth- through 12th-graders reported that they’d seriously considered attempting suicide, according to state data. And according to the Department of Health, suicide is the second cause of death among North Dakotans ages 15 to 24.

The key to preventing those tragedies, Flatt added, is educating both teachers and parents to recognize signs of depression and suicide.

“If we don’t pick up on those signs, we just validate that – ‘no one cares about you,’ ” he said.

While his organization doesn’t have plans to open an office in Minnesota, they hope the Fargo office will reach out to youth in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Starting this year, resources will be offered to area teachers. And a TV ad featuring Stenehjem and North Dakota State University head football coach Craig Bohl will air to help increase awareness about youth suicide.

“It’s a real issue that’s out there … but it’s a battle that we can win,” Bohl said.

The American Football Coaches Association and attorney generals from across the nation have supported The Jason Foundation since it started in 1997.

Teaming up with the community to help increase awareness about youth suicide won’t just save teens, Flatt said, but also help address suicide rates among adults.

“The issues that … actually manifest during those years, we should’ve identified in those middle, high school years,” he said. “By working here early we hope to maybe even prevent those (suicides) in those young adults.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515