After reporting on the suicides of four young men within two years, including three who were Eden Prairie High School students, and learning that suicidal ideation in young women was rapidly increasing, Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) began working on Silent Struggles in April 2023.
EPLN presents an eight-part series on the critical issues surrounding mental health and suicidal ideation through the eyes of survivors, and provides resources available for families, friends, and those who serve our young people in Eden Prairie. Follow our weekly reports at eplocalnews.org.
This is Part 8.
Jonas Wagner once told his mother that he didn’t think anyone would miss him if he were gone. “And I sat and I told him, ‘Everybody will miss you,’” said his mom, Nancy. “His brain was not taking it in.”
Zane Stranger, in a note to his family, said, “I’ve become uninterested in almost everything that I used to find interesting. It’s as if what makes the world bearable has been slowly drained out of me.”
Jonas was 17 and Zane was 23 when each ended his life less than two years apart in 2021 and 2023.
The deaths of those two young men, and Aaron Husmann in April 2023 – all of whom had attended Eden Prairie High School – shook the community.
When EPLN began working on this series of stories back in April, we asked Tonia Teasley, executive director of PACER, what the success of our effort might look like: “Making it OK for people to talk about the topic,” she said. “And giving people as many avenues for action as you can would be two really good results.”
Since then, our team of four reporters and a researcher have held that statement firmly in the forefront as we began to tell the story of mental health struggles and suicidal ideation among the young people in our – and your – community.
We called it “Silent Struggles,” and it became a collection of eight stories told by people dramatically affected by mental health and suicide, by experts in the schools, nonprofits, law enforcement, and more.
I told the story of Jonas Wagner as told by his mother in Part 2, and EPLN Co-Editor Stuart Sudak talked to the mother of Zane Stranger for Part 5. Thanks to their candid and emotional interviews, we were able to tell real stories about people who have experienced the ultimate trauma of suicide.
For Renee Klein, Zane’s mother, it was an important part of her grieving process. “Part of it was bargaining,” she said. “I have to make sense out of this tragedy, his life, his meaning.”
For Nancy Wagner, it was the opportunity to tell a cautionary tale. “This can happen to you,” she said. “And I don’t mean to be on my high horse about how wonderful we are, because certainly there’s plenty not perfect in our life. But we just think if it could happen to Jonas, it could happen to you.”
Sudak also spoke with Thuy Husmann, mother of Aaron Husmann, in a story separate from this series.
For all three women, it was also a place to talk about their sons, their lives and those they affected in myriad ways, and the potential lost through their deaths. We thank them for being a critical part of this series.
Those of us with children or grandchildren in Eden Prairie Schools understand the outsized role that the largest public entity in the city plays in our community. And that holds true for the mental health struggles of those young people in our lives. Education reporter Juliana Allen logged dozens of hours interviewing administrators, counselors, social workers, teachers and students for Silent Struggles.
Her stories reflect the positive programs available to students – particularly in Central Middle School (CMS) and Eden Prairie High School (EPHS). They also unveil the limitations and frustrations that accompany addressing the mental health concerns of students and teachers in 2023.
Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, students with mental health issues and other health disabilities missed important windows for diagnosis and suffered significant developmental setbacks, according to Laura Eid, a CMS special education teacher.
“COVID absolutely had an impact not just on adolescents, but on everyone,” said Kelsey MacQueen, head counselor at CMS. “And although we are getting back to normal, we have to remember that essentially three years of our lives were totally uprooted.”
Allen’s stories also explore other issues contributing to the impact on mental health: teachers themselves struggling with mental health issues, social media, the stigma attached to mental health and suicidal ideation, lack of staff, and financial challenges facing the district. Her stories are Parts 3 and 4 in our series.
Two nonprofit organizations with Eden Prairie connections that provide assistance for teenagers struggling with mental health issues are featured in reporter Mark Weber’s story in Part 6 of Silent Struggles.
Kaleidoscope Teens, led by Eden Prairie resident Tammy Ryder-Harms, and Relate Counseling Center, which has an Eden Prairie office and has Eden Prairie graduate Ashley Teigland as its clinical director of school services, offer different kinds of services on the mental health spectrum.
Kaleidoscope uses weekly mentoring and other support to build teenagers’ coping and life skills, sometimes over a period of years. Relate Counseling is a mental health provider with professional clinicians to help teens improve their mental or chemical health using therapy and counseling.
In Part 7, Weber talks with Eden Prairie Police Sgt. Bryan Dean, an EPHS graduate, who works in the department’s Juvenile Investigations Division, about the importance of training for officers, including de-escalation in crisis situations and using the skills of health care professionals and school-embedded social workers.
Dean also talks about the work of the four school resource officers and how the department is working to meet recommendations of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) relating to police interactions with juveniles experiencing mental health crises.
Dean says the department’s team approach to serving youth in crisis is working well. “The calls are very challenging and they change,” he said. “That’s why we continue to train, continue to learn from other calls, and figure out the best way to handle them.”
Today’s final edition of Silent Struggles features a Mental Health Resources list compiled by EPLN’s Amy Nylander. Her goal was to create a comprehensive list that features local, state and national resources that will make it easier for readers to get the kind of help they need when they need it.
EPLN plans to keep this updated on a regular basis going forward.
It is our hope that Silent Struggles has brought a measure of transparency to the mental health issues that adolescents face every day. In particular, we hope that the stigma around suicide is reduced so that families and the community can address the issue with greater transparency.
“We worry that saying the wrong thing will make it worse,” Nancy Wagner said. “So, we don’t say anything. Suicide is a topic that hides in the shadows. I’m an advocate of talking about this, as much as it hurts me.”
The Silent Struggles series has been combined in one location on the EPLN website for those of you who haven’t had the chance to read all of the stories.
Editor’s note: The EPLN Silent Struggles project was partially funded by grants from the Eden Prairie Community Foundation and the Eden Prairie A.M. Rotary.
If you or a loved one is in crisis, please call 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or text “MN” to 741741. Trained counselors are available to help 24/7/365.
If you or a loved one is at imminent risk, please contact 911 and ask for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer.
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