ST. CLOUD (WJON News) - A guest speaker this week at Apollo and Tech High School hopes her story will push teens to open up about their mental health.

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Emma Benoit was 16 when she attempted suicide. She was a competitive cheerleader who felt the ongoing symptoms of anxiety and depression. The attempt failed, and she started the website Life Rejuvenated to follow her recovery and help others open up about their mental health.

Benoit in the trailer for her documentary "My Ascension". Photo - YouTube
Benoit in the trailer for her documentary "My Ascension". Photo - YouTube

She told students that advocating for themselves can change their reality.

I think the biggest thing that I would change, and I regret, was not addressing my mental health sooner. I really, really believe that the precursor to suicide prevention is mental health. We have got to start talking about these things. It's important that we learn ways to navigate life and get the tools and the skills to really handle some of life's hard times.

Benoit’s suicide attempt resulted in a spinal cord injury and three years in intensive rehab. The documentary My Ascension follows Benoit through her recovery and advocacy work on behalf of teenagers and youth suicide.

Because the reality is, in my story, no one in my life knew how to communicate about these things. No one really had the language or the knowledge to really open up that dialogue with me. But looking back, knowing everything I know now, having someone (that) asked me the hard question, having someone sit across from me or be on the phone with me, and just simply say, you're not alone, you can get through this, and really validate me would have really made me feel seen and validated, which I think is so necessary for someone struggling.

Photo: Jeff McMahon - WJON
Photo: Jeff McMahon - WJON

During a question and answer session, Benoit was joined by Scott Roeder, a mental health advocate and father of a suicide victim, Heather Wilson, a crisis response team member from the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center, and Jessica Glieden, Apollo School Counselor. The group answered questions submitted by the crowd, including one asking why we’re just now starting to ask more questions about mental health and suicide. Heather Wilson responded:

There's a stigma around mental health. I feel as time goes on, we're just getting more comfortable having these conversations, because we know that something has to change. Suicide rates are very high. Mental health is not new, people have been struggling with mental health for years, and we're learning more about it as time goes on. It's a conversation that continues to grow more socially acceptable.

Benoit wrapped up the conversation with a plea to area teens.

When we're thinking of going to our parents, we've got to understand the position that they're in and understand that they are humans living life for the first time too. They might not know how to help you, they might not understand what it is you're going through, probably because they were never taught to identify these things within themselves. I just encourage you, and I urge you, please give them grace, understand their position, and advocate for yourself. And if you are afraid to go to your parents, I encourage you to go to someone else. Go to another trusted adult. Because I know (what it’s like) dealing with parents that don't really get it. Mine didn't get it either. It can be really hard and it's isolating.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide every year. It’s the second-leading cause of death in people aged 18-24.


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