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Former Mrs. Fargo works to end stigma of mental illness by opening up about past suicide attempt

Sara Dukart

FARGO — For Sara Dukart, the suicidal thoughts started in seventh grade.

She had been struggling with self-identity for about two years, in part because she was adopted, in part because her body was changing. Dukart describes her depression as an "elephant constantly sitting on you." She was suffocating.

One day in eighth grade, "I didn't necessarily want to die, but I just, I couldn't take it," the 27-year-old recently recalled. "I couldn't handle it. I didn't know how to deal with the pain."

She went to bathroom, took a bunch of pills and wondered what would happen next.

Today, Dukart is a registered nurse at Sanford Health in Fargo, a marathon runner and a pageant queen, as the former Mrs. Fargo and recently named Mrs. Montana. A year ago, she went public with the story of her suicide attempt — a step she says was necessary in her recovery and on her mission to end the stigma of mental illness.

"It was just like, 'Phew, I can breathe,' " she said. "A weight was just lifted, because I was always carrying that around."

Dukart is hosting an educational social called "You Matter" tonight at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead to encourage open conversations about depression and to talk about how physical fitness can help.

"I know that I need structure. I know that I need to exercise and eat healthy and take care of myself and get sleep," she said. "The likelihoods of me getting depression again are very high. Reoccurrence for individuals with severe depression is up to five times in your life."

"It's not necessarily helping someone look a certain way, but it's helping them feel comfortable in their own skin," said Justin Mickels, owner of Evolution Fitness in Fargo, which is co-hosting the event. "From my personal experience, eating healthy helps me feel so much better, not just physically, but internally, mentally."

The event will have five speakers (including Dukart), live music, door prizes and a raffle. All proceeds will go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's North Dakota chapter.

"We're trying to show that we all have mental health, each and every one of us," Dukart said. "It's just, how is your mental health right now? Is it good? Is it bad?"

After Dukart's attempt, her parents pulled her out of school. For a year, she went to therapy three times a week. Her suicidal thoughts subsided, but the self-destruction did not. She developed a severe eating disorder and worried that schoolmates were judging her.

"I got good grades, you know, I was an athlete. And from the outside, I would have looked completely fine," she said. "But on the inside, I felt completely empty."

Faith finally helped Dukart move forward, when she realized "that in (God's) eyes, I am perfect," she said. And her life "completely changed" when she met her husband.

Today, Dukart also finds comfort in sharing her story.

"I've had people say, 'I really want to be a nurse, and I was scared because of my past that I shouldn't do that, and you've made me realize I can do whatever I want to do,' " she said. "That's amazing."

If you go

What: An educational social about suicide prevention with live music, door prizes and a raffle

When: 6:30 tonight

Where: Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave. N., Moorhead

Cost: $27 if you purchase tickets online at bit.ly/1PVeJTq; $30 at the door

How did Mrs. Fargo become Mrs. Montana?

Dukart won first runner-up in the Jan. 16 contest for Mrs. North Dakota, meaning she wouldn't go on to compete for Mrs. International. But her coach thought she was ready for the next step and talked to Dukart about applying to be Montana's contestant at large.

An at-large contestant is appointed when a state has no pageant director and therefore no pageant, like Montana this year.

Dukart has promoted suicide prevention in North Dakota and Minnesota, and had been planning to expand into Montana next. She was not required to live there.

"Montana has the highest rate of suicides in the whole nation, so I felt that with my platform, I could really make a big difference in Montana," she said. "Because I'm so active in my platform with AFSP (the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) and have branched out so much, that's how I qualified."

Dukart interviewed for the position Jan. 24 and was offered the title Jan. 29. She accepted that day and will compete at the Mrs. International competition July 22-23 in Jacksonville, Fla.

Grace Lyden

Grace Lyden is the higher education reporter for The Forum. Previously, she interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism in 2014. She welcomes story ideas via email or phone. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com.

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