After losing their daughter, a Hawley family is fighting mental health stigma
HAWLEY, Minn. — A Hawley family is taking action to help spare other parents the grief and trauma of losing a child to suicide.
A year ago, the Bjorndahls' lives changed forever when their 20-year-old daughter, Katie, lost her battle with depression and anxiety.
The Bjorndahls describe Katie as a beautiful, busy and caring young woman, and said the grief they have suffered from losing her has been exhausting.
"We miss her. So badly," said Katie's mother, Lisa Bjorndahl. "We never realized how many people she touched."
Following her death, the family decided they would not sit back and do nothing. They formed "Katie's Roar," an effort to get state lawmakers and area schools to come to the conversation about mental health. The name comes from a tattoo Katie had that was inspired by a Bible version from the Book of Joshua: "This is my command - be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
"It is an epidemic, and we've got to step up and do something," Lisa said. "The minute that Katie died we felt the drive because that's who she was. She helped everybody — she just did not help herself."
The family said people suffering like Katie did need someone to talk to, but that they don't always feel comfortable opening up.
"I see that a lot, and I just feel like (students) are kind of scared to ask for help," Katie's sister, Grace Bjorndahl, said.
The Bjorndahls hope the organization in their daughter's name will help stomp out the stigma associated with those battling mental health issues. They are pushing for "Katie's Roar Hope Rooms" in schools, where students can talk freely about mental health issues.
"You are built up with so much emotion, you don't know where to vent it or bring it to, and this is something we all can benefit from," said Katie's father, Aaron Bjorndahl.
On Sunday, Sept. 29 — the one-year anniversary of her death — friends and family gathered at the Hawley Softball Complex for a dedication ceremony to honor the standout player.
Organizers hope Katie's Roar will make some noise and save others who are hurting.
"Stop the stigma," Lisa said. "It's OK not to be OK."