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Agnes McKeen

Agnes McKeen launched the informal group Just Talk following the suicide of her son.

The third annual Just Talk Suicide Prevention event will expand its involvement from the community to feature a group largely affected by suicide: youth.

The founder of Just Talk, Agnes McKeen, said that this group is vital to the conversation.

“This year is the first year we’re going to have involvement from the schools, and I’m very very excited about that,” she said. “When we start to utilize our youth leaders and empowering them to use their voices in suicide awareness and prevention and spreading the messages of hope, I believe that’s when we’re going to start to see a change.”

Mazama High School’s Kindness Club will paint faces with semicolons or positive messages for the walk, the Youth Tribal Council will have whiteboards to write positive messages on and Klamath Union High School Rocks will help people paint rocks to either keep or hide around town.

“Having the youth’s involvement this year, it means a lot to me and it means a lot to the community,” McKeen said. “Especially with the steady rise in teen suicide, we really need to start using our youth.”

Saturday activities

The event will kick off Saturday at noon with speakers, community booths and activities before a walk down Main Street.

“I don’t think a month goes by where I’m not running into somebody who has said, yes, I attended your first event or your second event or thank you for giving me a space to remember my child,” she said. “We want to remember our loved ones lost to suicide just as much as we want to remember our loved ones lost naturally. They still lived.”

This year, Related in Recovery will partner with Just Talk during the event and will pick up after the walk with their peer support group for drug and alcohol recovery.

McKeen said a speaker will also highlight the connection between drug and alcohol use and suicide.

In the park

In 2017 and 2018, the event was held at the Klamath County Fairgrounds, but this year McKeen moved it to Veterans Memorial Park.

For both past events, McKeen said she’s seen about 150 people attend. While she hopes to welcome 150 people again this year, the most growth has come from the amount of community involvement. The first year featured 10 community partners, last year had 17 and this year McKeen has 25 partners signed up.

“From the moment I started planning Just Talk, there wasn’t a place where I went into where somebody’s life wasn’t impacted by suicide or mental health conditions,” she said. “So it was apparent that the need was there.”

McKeen and Just Talk organizers will also provide QPR training, which stands for Question, Persuade and Refer.

“It’s like the CPR for learning how to ask someone if they’re feeling suicidal,” she said. “By asking them, you’re giving them permission to talk about it and letting them know it’s okay to talk to you about it. That’s what QPR is, it’s giving you the ground to feel comfortable asking somebody, ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’ and knowing what to do when the answer is yes.”

McKeen also hopes to bring QPR training to schools and to train parents on how to talk to their children if they’re worried about them.

“In order to change the culture surrounding suicide in our society we have to start talking about it,” McKeen said. “It’s difficult. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard. It saves lives.”