Dr. Dan Reidenberg’s first experience with suicide came as a University of Minnesota undergraduate.
It was 1987, and he was saying goodbye to a friend in front of Coffman Union.
His friend said only, “take care of yourself,” but Reidenberg knew in the pit of his stomach something was wrong.
A week later, his friend took his life.
Suicide prevention has taken on a greater sense of urgency following several committed by youth bullied for their perceived sexual orientation, including that of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, after his roommate videotaped and posted footage online of him with another man. The next day, Asher Brown, a 13-year-old from Houston, fatally shot himself after being bullied by classmates who believed he was gay.
But for Reidenberg, “The reality is this topic is relevant every day of the year — regardless of what is going on in the news,” he said. “It is important that college campuses pay attention to this all of time, as well as the rest of the community.”
Reidenberg has been involved with mental health for 25 years. Starting off as a volunteer for a crisis hotline, he’s now the Executive Director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and the Managing Director of the National Council for Suicide Prevention.
“It all started at the [University],” he said.
On Monday, Reidenberg returned to the University to talk about suicide prevention near the location where he last saw his friend. His lecture emphasized the frequency of suicide and the need to address it.
One person commits suicide every 15 minutes in the United States, Reidenberg said.
Since 2009, state Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Jim Davnie, both Democrats from Minneapolis, have been aggressively pushing anti-bullying legislation, which they say could help protect against sexual preference discrimination.
A similar law already exists, but Dibble and Davnie hope the new bill will simplify and clarify the statute to ensure it covers prevention of all types of bullying in the school.
“The current one has been updated several times,” Davnie said. “We want to add cyber bullying to the definition and make sure that it creates a positive learning environment for everyone.”
The new legislation, which would include the training of teachers in anti-bullying strategies, will be considered in the 2011 legislative session.
Gubernatorial candidates Tom Horner, Independent, and Mark Dayton, DFL, have said they would support anti-bullying legislation. Republican candidate Tom Emmer said he would not.
Reidenberg supports the efforts to alter the legislation to fit with the type of bullying that occurs today.
“In the past, bullying was one-on-one,” Reidenberg said. “Today it can be many people against one person and it can be anonymous. If someone starts a rumor about you, it can go viral on the Internet and instead of 10 people knowing about it, 10,000 people could know about it.”
Monday’s event was hopeful. Reidenberg emphasized life always gets better and there is something beyond the moments that make life unbearable.
Prevention efforts are critical, because many people “don’t know what to do about their problems, so they take the easiest way out by ending their life,” said Daniel Braunstein, a first-year public health student at the University who attended the event. “Suicide doesn’t solve anything, it just creates more problems ... it becomes a downward spiral.”