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Fargo Police, Cass Public Health and foundation bringing suicide awareness speaker to community

Speaker Nathan Harmon will present at schools as well as two free community events called Night of Hope

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Liam Medd died by suicide in Feburary 2021, and his parents created a foundation in his honor to help reduce the stigma around mental health and to foster suicide awareness.
Photo special to On the Minds of Moms
We are part of The Trust Project.

One night in February 2021 forever changed the lives of Todd and Elizabeth Medd. After having dinner with their kids, Liam and Selma, Todd and Elizabeth left to take care of an errand. An hour later, they returned to discover 15-year-old Liam had died by suicide.

“Of all the things we worried about for Liam, declining mental health and suicide weren’t even on our radar,” Elizabeth shared.

Shortly after Liam’s death, the Medd family established the 4 6 3 Foundation, named because Liam was a second baseman. A 4-6-3 is a double play where the second baseman throws to shortstop for the force out and the shortstop throws to the first baseman to get the batter out. The numbers in the play refer to the defensive positions.

“With Liam being the second baseman and that being a double play, it’s like he’s fielded the ball and tossed it to us to continue spreading his light and joy with our main goal being to reduce stigma, build hope and end suicide,” she explained, wiping tears from her eyes.

That’s why the 4 6 3 Foundation is partnering with Fargo Cass Public Health and the Fargo Police Department to offer an event in September designed for area students as well as their parents. National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 4-10 this year. In North Dakota and Minnesota, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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Motivational speaker Nathan Harmon is bringing his message of hope to the Fargo-Moorhead community this month. He last spoke here in May.
Photo special to On the Minds of Moms

The partners are bringing national speaker Nathan Harmon to Fargo to speak at the events, which are scheduled for Sept. 13-15. A similar event was held in May at the schools Liam attended, Fargo Davies and Discovery. The September event is being expanded to include more area schools as well as two community events called Night of Hope, which will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at Bethel Church and Wednesday, Sept. 14, at Sanctuary Events Center. People are encouraged to arrive early to check out resources ahead of time, and the community events are free and open to the public.

Elizabeth explained that Nathan is a dynamic speaker with an uncanny ability to connect to young people, so he was the best-equipped speaker to bring this heavy message to the audience.

“He is the perfect balance of energy and seriousness,” Fargo police officer and community engagement team leader Cristie Jacobsen shared.

A community service event

The Fargo Police Department has hosted a large assembly for students on an important topic with a speaker and entertainer for several years, Cristie said. After a hiatus due to COVID, the department discussed the event and an appropriate topic to cover as well as how to provide the message in a safe format.

“We had been seeing an increase in completed suicide in our community and region among teens, and we as officers were as equally devastated by that,” Cristie said. One solution was an educational video featuring stories of suicide called “Break the Silence” with Liam’s story included. The video has been shared extensively in the local school systems and is available to anyone at breakthesilencetogether.org .

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In July, the mental health hotline number changed to 988. Those in crisis can also text “home” to 741741.
Contributed / Fargo Cass Public Health

Suicide awareness is a message crucial for older students to hear, but reaching children at a young age is just as important, if not more. Fargo Cass Public Health Mental Health Coordinator Melissa Markegard is using her new role to focus on educating young children on how to handle and appropriately deal with their emotions so they know how to manage moments of crisis. She’ll be introducing trainings and educational resources like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s chidren’s book, “Gizmo’s Pawesome Guide to Mental Health,” to local day cares and elementary schools.

“You have to start at the beginning because fighting just the crisis is battlefield triage,” Elizabeth said.

“The reality is that children very, very young are experiencing trauma so we have to provide the skills and resources and points of contact to develop resiliency and shine light on it for parents,” Cristie said. “It’s too little, too late to start talking about it with a teen… No feeling is final. They just can’t think or see beyond the crisis moment. We have to start having that conversation about trauma and mental health at an early age to reduce the shame and stigma.”

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Knowing the signs, even when there are none

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Elizabeth Medd shared that Liam, shown here with his younger sister Selma, showed no traditional signs of suicidality before his death.
Photo special to On the Minds of Moms

“We all have mental health, but we often only see the crisis in the news,” Markegard said. “Most of us are not in crisis mode often or for very long.”

In fact, research has shown that 24% of those who attempted suicide thought about it for less than five minutes, and 24% said they thought about it for up to 20 minutes before the crisis moment. That is not a lot of time to intervene, which is why teaching children about resources and help available to them is so crucial, as is parents knowing the signs that a child may be struggling.

Traditional signs of suicidality include major changes in behavior, sleeping or eating patterns, or giving away prized possessions. Liam exhibited none of those.

“There was nothing I was concerned about,” Elizabeth shared. “There was nothing that indicated Liam was struggling, and I was watching.”

Normalizing conversation about suicide means parents and kids can have honest, open discussions about what to do when situations and emotions arise that could lead to a terrible moment of crisis from which there is no coming back.

“Parents have conversations with their kids about drugs, alcohol, sex, safe online behavior, and we want to add to this to the list as early as possible and give them resources to have that conversation,” Cristie said.

She specifically mentioned Robbie’s Hope, which has free online resources for teens, parents, educators and the media . Parents can find information about how to set limits for screen time , talking about depression, helping teens manage anxiety and more.

Another great opportunity for parents and kids to talk about managing mental health is creating a Life Safety Plan , a document that provides coping mechanisms, distraction techniques, personal warning signs and mental health resources as well as trusted adults to seek out in a time of crisis .

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“Knowing how to distract yourself could save your life,” Melissa said.

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Players and supporters await the start of the second annual Liam G Medd Memorial Tournament in Fargo in June. The event is a fundraiser to make suicide awareness resources available.
Contributed / Chad Maloy Photography

In addition, parents can set appropriate boundaries regarding technology use or devices at night, which gives a child an immediate out if questioned about a delayed response. “I have taught my daughter to allow me to be the bad guy, and I’m OK with that. That’s my job,” Cristie said.

As the final preparations are put in place for the September suicide awareness events, Elizabeth is proud to know the foundation has been action-oriented by getting out in front of people and talking about her family’s experience with suicide.

“Through the worst tragedy imaginable, the amount of impact she has had on the community and the impact on the lives of mothers and children who come in contact with her… I’ve never seen such movement and impact and dedication,” Cristie said. “Everyone talks about wanting to make an impact; she didn’t just say it, she did it… and all of Cass and Clay County are better because the 4 6 3 Foundation is part of it.”

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Danielle Teigen has a bachelor's degree in journalism and management communication as well as a master's degree in mass communication from North Dakota State University. She has worked for Forum Communications since May 2015, first as a digital content manager before becoming the Life section editor and then deputy editor. She recently moved back to her hometown in South Dakota, where she works remotely for Forum Communications as managing editor of On the Minds of Moms.
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