Suicide and Mental Illness Close to Home in Wyoming

Kelsey Rose Wilson

Last week a Laramie Boomerang obituary page included a teen’s face.

Kelsey Wilson was a 16-year-old student at Laramie High School.

While I didn’t know her, what my untrained eyes see in her photo is a young woman who was well loved in life.

And what pain she felt in that life, I can only imagine.

Alongside the shock of her age, the obituary contained a raw plea.

“Suicide and depression are difficult topics to discuss, and the family hopes you will talk with your loved ones to help bring it into the light and reduce the stigma surrounding it.

“The family asks you write your legislators and representatives in Congress to push for better mental health interventions and suicide prevention services in Wyoming.”

I grieve for Kelsey and for her family.

And my own letter to Representative Liz Cheney has already been sent.

The Tragic Truth

–  31% of teens nationwide have symptoms of depression.

–  Wyoming has the 4th highest suicide rate in the country.

–  In Wyoming, worry about suicide in teens is becoming
the top reported concern.

–  1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12)
seriously considered suicide in the past year.

–  Teen suicides in Wyoming are rising and are
nearly three times the national average.

The top blue line shows Wyoming’s deaths by suicide per 100,000 for youth aged 15-19. The lower blue line is the national number.

Take Action!

•  Write Representative Liz Cheney.

•  Read Preventing Suicide in Wyoming.

•  Be reminded of good people doing good work in Wyoming:

–  Peace as Learned and Teachable Skills

–  Pain Should Not Be Wasted: The Story of Three Parents

–  Carla Trier Brings Heaps of Love By Way of the Foster Parent Exchange

.   .   .

Ellen is a native of northern Maine. Her interest in getting to know Wyoming focuses on ways people and organizations help and protect individuals, wildlife, beauty, and rights. She is a HeartMath® trainer and coach, a Connection Practice trainer and coach, and a biodynamic craniosacral therapist. Her website is:  EllenSynakowski.com and her email is EllenSynakowski@icloud.com.

“Remember that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West

“Pain should not be wasted”— Deep Gratitude to Three Parents Who Have Not Wasted Their Pain

Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of Matthew Shepard.

Holocaust survivor, Gerda Weissmann Klein said, “Pain should not be wasted.”

And I am deeply grateful to three parents who live that wisdom.

Karen Ball began the Sturge-Weber Foundation when her daughter, Kaelin, was born with Sturge-Weber Syndrome accompanied by a significant facial port wine stain.

Because this Foundation was there when my son, Byron, was born with the same syndrome, we were not alone.

Karen continues to blaze trail after medical trail in service to others.

The Shepards of Casper, Wyoming

And then there are the Shepards.

Their son, Matthew, was murdered 20 years ago this month.

It was a hate crime for being gay.

Judy channeled her anger and pain and created good:  The Matthew Shepard Foundation.

And for two decades, she and her gentle husband, Dennis, have traveled the country and the world erasing hate, promoting tolerance, and heralding human rights for all.

“This is not about courage or some higher calling; This is what happens when you piss off a mother.” – Judy Shepard

We spent this week-end in their presence.

On October 26, 2018 at 10 a.m., a public celebration of Matthew’s life will precede his interment at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

His remains are still not safe in Wyoming.

And that is unimaginable.

The Shepards model both public anguish and resilience as they counter the injustice of Matthew’s death.

And though their service to humanity cannot be measured, award after award attempts to quantify the shift their work is creating.

As Judy said during the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice in Laramie last spring, “This is not about courage or some higher calling; This is what happens when you piss off a mother.”

And for me, a mother still fighting for me children — sometimes out of fear, occasionally from anger, and mostly out of love — I spill tears every time I’m close to the energy that swirls like tornados around Judy and Dennis.

Because beyond the LGBTQ community, the work they do emphasizes justice for all human life on the planet.

“Pain should not be wasted.”

And for Judy and Dennis and Karen it hasn’t been.

•  •  •

An excerpt from Dennis Shepard’s trial statement:

“You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone . . . First, he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then, he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time — one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming . . . And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of Wyoming sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind — the ever-present Wyoming wind — for the last time. He had one more friend with him. He had God.

“I feel better knowing he wasn’t alone.”

Take Action!

•  Learn more at the Sturge-Weber Foundation

•  Help Erase Hate at the Matthew Shepard Foundation

•  Read about growing up in a moderately-tolerant town

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is EllenSynakowski.com. She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and has been practicing Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy since 2013.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

 

Wyoming Refugee Resettlement Plan Written by University Student for Only State Without One

“. . . Wyoming is the single state in the U.S. without a Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) filed with the federal government.”

Gabe Selting wrote his senior honors thesis as a “How To” plan for Wyoming to initiate a Refugee Resettlement Plan.

So begins Gabe Selting’s 2018 honors senior thesis from the University of Wyoming, “Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-to Guide.”

Selting says social justice addresses “equal access to opportunity.”

Yet his own interests are broader.

They extend to equal access to opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.

And this fall his already passionate life takes a step forward as he begins law school in Washington, DC.

His interest in social justice and service began when he was 16 years old.

He was living in London with time on his hands while his parents, both professors at the University of Wyoming, were on sabattical.

During this time he thought, and he struggled.

“The ultimate question was, ‘What is my personal interpretation of happiness, and how can I get there?’”

The answer came as a question.

“What is my ability to impact others in a meaningful way? How can I have a positive impact?”

Resettlement Plan Began with Education

As an International Studies undergraduate, Selting expanded his lens on the world.

He studied and volunteered in multiple countries.

And those experiences gave him perspective on Wyoming’s role in global issues.

As well as Wyoming’s role in the refugee conversation.

“All around Wyoming there’s affordable housing, low-skill jobs, and open spaces so you’re not forced to live next to others’ religions, if you don’t want to,” he said.

“By not having a Refugee Resettlement Plan, what message are we sending to Washington and to the United Nation’s High Commission on Refugees?

“It takes 50 links to make this work,” he said. “and one doesn’t exist – Wyoming.”

The website of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is clear.

Refugees are given, “the opportunity to achieve their full potential . . .”

The U.S. Government along with individual states and organizations offer a hand up with “critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society.”

“It takes 50 links to make this work, and one doesn’t exist — Wyoming.”

Refugees are Free to Move Into Wyoming

Because there are no cross-state entry restrictions, once refugees have been permitted to enter the country, Selting says they can go where they like.

“Former refugees are making their way to Wyoming, whether people like it or not.”

Yet without a RRP Selting says, “those who arrive here don’t have access to key services.”

Selting thinks that state’s resistance stems from fears for safety and economic security.

“It’s so much more dangerous to not have a refugee infrastructure program then to have one,” he said.

“There’s a huge body of literature showing that extremism often comes in the form of social and economic alienation.

“We need to have systems for people to integrate into; to combat social isolation.

“Wyoming has the capacity to help and accept refugees,” he said.

And thanks to this recent grad’s persistence, Wyoming’s “How To” is ready to go.

Take Action!

•  Read Gabe’s thesis, Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-To Guide.

•  Learn about the Immigration Alliance of Casper.

•  Check out the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

•  Read Gillette Against Hate. 

•  Read Where refugees go in America,” from the Washington Post.

•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

 

Bright pink states are the worst for welcoming refugees. Bright green are the best.

Cambodian Sex Trafficking and Child Exploitation: Heart Mothers Support Survivors

Ruth Williams founded Heart Mothers to support children rescued from sex trafficking and exploitation in Cambodia.

The faces of Cambodian survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation compelled her to action.

Twelve years ago Ruth Williams had just moved to Laramie. “I was sitting in a salon and saw a picture of a rescued child.”

“’Her eyes pierced me . . . I couldn’t forget her,” she said.

Within 24 hours she had emailed and heard back from Somany Mam, the woman from the article responsible for saving 6,000+ children.

And so began Williams’ journey to support young girls through her nonprofit organization, Heart Mothers.

It’s a story of frequent trips to Cambodia, fund-raising to help sustain Mam’s Center that’s home to 62 girls as young as 14 months, and enlisting the help of nearly 90 women to write letters, send gifts and bring hope to children with few life options.

“Social justice is protecting somebody’s dignity,” Ruth said. “And yet there’s so much injustice in the world.”

“Nothing will change until people realize that
pornography is epidemic.”

According to Equality Now, an activism group working to protect women’s rights around the world, trafficking is a $99 billion business and the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Ninety-six percent of its victims are women and girls.13

Ruth says the underlying issues are poverty14 and the way we view pornography and women.

Asked how this problem will end, Ruth said, “I don’t think it will.”

“Nothing will change until people realize that pornography is epidemic,” she said.

Yet the girls themselves bring her hope.  “They are happy, confident, loving, amazing young women who have been through hell and back,” she said.

Sugar Mouse Cupcakes are a feature of the Laramie Farmer’s Market.

Financial support for Heart Mothers comes from donations and profits from thousands of Sugar Mouse Cupcakes made by Ruth and sold at Laramie’s Farmer’s Market each summer.

 

Take Action!


•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West

 

Witnessing Childhood Injustices Part 2: Bullying and Isolation — Two Sides of the Same Coin

Bullying and isolation are really two sides of the same coin.

Liza Thomas was in fourth grade when she brought a beer to school in her lunch box. As you might expect, all hell broke loose.

When isolation is used to bully

As a third grader I stood by and witnessed the cruelty that met her each day. On one extreme was the merciless taunting she had to endure, and when attention swung in the other direction she was socially isolated.

I wish I had a single memory of walking up to her and saying “hello” or “want to swing at recess?” but I don’t.

Sometimes I alter the images of her battling these injustices all alone and imagine her fists softening and a hint of a smile appearing. This older me wishes I’d been able to give her a moment’s peace at school.

Liza Thomas and Alvin before her are two of the reasons I created this blog.

The courage to take risks

I want to meet people around the state of Wyoming who have the clarity of mind to know what they believe in, work hard to correct what they see may be headed in the wrong direction, and have the courage to take risks in ways I never did with Liza.

This blog will be looking at these and more topics:

•   aging                         •   animals                   •  bullying
•  care of the planet    •   crime                       •   disability
•  education                  •  race                           •  healthcare
•  environment            •  domestic violence  •   fire arms
•  free speech               •  gender                      •  human trafficking
•  immigration             •  income disparity    •  LBGTQIA+
•  laws                           •  opioids                      •  politicking
•  poverty                     •  native Americans   •  water and land
•  children in foster and alternative care
•  loneliness and isolation

Please email me with names of organizations and people working for justice in Wyoming.

Also of interest:  Why I Care: Witnessing childhood injustices

•  •  •

Ellen Webster Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is:  EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”1 – Cornell West