Therapist with Hibbing roots highlighted for suicide prevention efforts

For the fourth straight year, human life expectancy in the United States declined. This has relatively little to do with longevity. After all, more people are living longer. But rather it has everything to do with how many people we lose to depression and addiction each year.

The Huffington Post published a long form essay “The Best Way to Save People from Suicide” by Jason Cherkis last week. The story drew national attention as a means of understanding what’s happening and what might be done about it. (NOTE: For those suffering from extreme depression, the story should be viewed with caution). One of the prominent figures in the story was a young therapist redeploying an old treatment for depression. That therapist is Ursala Whiteside, and she’s from Hibbing.

Ursula Whiteside

The premise is simple: people with a history of severe depression and suicide attempts do better when they are regularly contacted with non-judgmental, supportive messages that show people care about them in spite of their depression. As the article explains, its a treatment that was developed by a psychologist who sent letters to veterans in the mail after World War II. And it works the same now, only with e-mails and texts.

Depression and drug or alcohol addiction share one feature. They are diseases of isolation. Each pushes people to cordon themselves off from the rest of society. This therapy seeks to break the cycles of isolation that so often lead to desperation for those suffering from these diseases. After all, you can’t expect an occasional doctor’s visit or inspirational poster to do the trick when you feel overwhelmed by a condition that affects your day-to-day functionality.

Whiteside is also working with social media networks like Facebook to spot red flags so friends and family can intervene.

Now, it’s not like sending texts to your depressed friends and relatives is a cure in itself. There are certain methods that prove more effective than others. As Whiteside shows in the story, you can get it wrong. Nevertheless, this a remarkable read. Mostly for the fact that it suggests a way to improve how we handle mental health in this country. It ends with some semblance of hope.

A few years ago I wrote about my uncle Scott in a newspaper column about local efforts to bring awareness to mental health and suicide risks. Twenty-eight years after his death, his loss still reverberates with unspoken power. Heck, I’m researching men who most likely died from addiction and suicide 100 years ago. The pain, confusion and shame rings through the dusty old texts. Most of us share a connection to suicide, depression and addiction, if not in our family then within our social circles.

There is help. More important, you are worth helping.


  1. This is right on man. Right on. I tried going back to organizing and I just can’t do it anymore. I cannot muster the energy for persuasion, or ideology. Ideology is merely a symptom today. Miserable as service sector jobs are, there is love there. There is a sense of “Us,” and simply being one of us is inspiring. I think I’d rather be down here with a sore back and gnarly cut up hands. Rather than up where no one recognizes you as “Fam, Bro, Cuz” etc. We all just sharecroppin’.

    Almost a year ago my cousin didn’t come out of jail. He ain’t gonna come out. That one hurt the most. That one got me. Put me in a bad bad place. I can’t stop thinking I could have helped him. My most recent trip to the clink was not long before his. Goddam the jails are overcrowded. So cold. So alone. But somehow by the Grace of God I got out again. I know exactly how he was feeling. I know exactly what he was thinking before he ended it. And, worse, I know what I could have said. I’d do anything to rewind the clock on that one. Because we were so much the same in so many ways. I could have helped.

    It just sucks that I know his exact feelings right before he did it and was unable to communicate that to him.

    Man, so much of our lives were the same. The only difference being I walked out of jail last time I went in. He didn’t. I miss him more than all the others.

    Just be there for each other. That’s it. That’s all that matters… Peace Be With You

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