Ken and Carolyn Giessinger lost their son, Jason, to suicide on May, 16, 2011. They now strive to keep other families from experiencing that pain. “South Dakota is ranked ninth in the nation for the highest suicide rate,” according to Carolyn. “That’s very high. A family is shattered when someone commits suicide, but so is the entire community, especially in a town like Milbank where we are so close.”
Carolyn says there is still a stigma attached to suicide. “It’s a hush-hush death. It’s so hard to deal with it, if nobody will talk about it.” But suicide isn’t quiet. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people age 15 to 64 in the US – someone dies every 12.3 minutes. The Giessinger’s hope by taking their message to schools, sporting events, and the outdoors, they can reach those who suffer in silence.
The Fifth Annual Jason’s Memory Co-ed Softball Tournament is Saturday, August 26, at Pribyl Park. Carolyn says, “Jason was an avid softball player, so to honor him, we host this tournament to raise money for the Out of the Darkness Walk. We have several teams that play in our tournament that have been affected by suicide.
Registration is open for co-ed teams with a minimum of four girls. Registration is $200 and must be paid in advance. First and second place prizes are awarded with the cash payout determined by the number of teams in the tournament. “Even if you don’t have a team playing in the tournament – come out for the day and watch some great ball players!”
Following Jason’s death, the Giessinger’s attended the Out of the Darkness Walk in Sioux Falls, but they realized suicide would claim the life of two or three people in Milbank every year. “This is close to us. We decided we can help by educating people right here in our community. So, we started a walk in Milbank,” Carolyn says. “To help people see it’s okay to talk about mental illness, depression, and suicide.”
The Second Annual Out of the Darkness Walk is Sunday, September 17, at Lake Farley Park. “This community walk is in conjunction with AFSP,” says Carolyn. “We have put together a raffle to raise money for the Walk.” Raffle tickets are on sale now for $5 each. Prizes are valued from $100 – $725, and include: a Weber grill, a Yeti cooler, a $500 Ol’ Mill Meats meat bundle, a $100 Food-N-Fuel gift card, and a $100 Berens Warehouse Groceries gift card.
Registration for the walk begins at 1:00 p.m. The walk starts at 2 p.m. There will be a program to honor those lost, a walk around the park, food, and fellowship. To register for the event, click here!
Carolyn is also an advocate for suicide prevention in the schools. “We held a program in May and hope to do another in the fall,” she says. “We want to teach children what to do and where to go for help when they are feeling low or have suicidal thoughts. Suicide escalates in the college years. We need to learn how to cope with those feelings before kids go off on their own.”
Carolyn is a trained support group facilitator and plans to restart a support group in October. She is a board member of the South Dakota American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and helps evaluate and allocate the budget. “Some is used for national research and most is used for school and community programs such as More Than Sad and Talk Saves Lives,” she says.
“People tend to sit back and do nothing until it affects them. With suicide, it’s too late,” she says, “It’s ok to talk about it. Mental illness is real, but help is out there. We want to make sure they find it.”
“Don’t ever give up on someone,” Carolyn says. “If a loved one is showing signs of struggle, find someone to talk to and take precautions at home to keep them safe. We are making great strides in prevention, but we have a long way to go.”