‘People just aren’t talking about it’

University student Julia Schliesing is working to lower the suicide rate in Minnesota.

Tyler Gieseke

After her high school friend’s untreated depression led to his suicide last year, University of Minnesota student Julia Schliesing vowed she would be more vocal about her own treatment.

“I started telling anyone and everyone who would listen that I was treated for depression,” she said. Since then, the political science senior has found a new way to spread awareness — her campaign for Miss Minnesota.

Schliesing, who was crowned Miss Minneapolis last month, has committed to lowering the state’s suicide rate as part of her pageant platform. On Wednesday, she hosted the first-annual fundraiser in honor of her friend Matt Challou at Buffalo Wild Wings in Stadium Village.

Proceeds from the event will go to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, or SAVE, a Minnesota-based group dedicated to preventing suicide.

One week after Challou’s death in January 2013, Schliesing organized a memorial on the Washington Avenue Bridge. She said the annual fundraiser will be a continuation of that memorial.

Suicide is the third-most-common cause of death for American youth, and females are twice as likely as males to have depression, according to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

Schliesing wants to inspire youth through her campaign.

“If they can look at Miss America and hear her saying, ‘I’m treated for depression and I’m not ashamed of it,’ then they will feel more comfortable seeking help,” Schliesing said. 

To spread awareness, SAVE campaigns in schools and across media, including billboards, radio, TV and print, said Linda Mars, the group’s events coordinator.

The group is excited to be included in Schliesing’s campaign, Mars said.

“If somebody picks up some of our materials, to me that’s more important than the money being raised today,” she said. 

‘Call Me Mental’

Two University of Minnesota-Duluth alumni are featuring Schliesing and the memorial fundraiser in their documentary series “Call Me Mental.” The series depicts the lives of those who have come to terms with a mental illness and are ready to share their stories.

Joe Olivieri, one of the filmmakers, said the project aims to “paint a portrait” of a person who has struggled with mental illness but found a way to overcome it.

The first episode’s subject, Dylan Archer, found that writing about his experiences on his blog helped alleviate some depression symptoms.

The second episode depicts a woman who has dealt with sexual abuse through quilting, a form of art therapy, Olivieri said. It can be challenging for children to grow up if they’ve been molested at a young age, he said, but the woman in this episode came to terms with the tragedy.

“She really did it in a vivid and beautiful way,” Olivieri said.

Olivieri and David Cowardin, the other UMD alum, played the second episode for fundraiser attendees Wednesday.

To create the third installment, Schliesing said the two-person film crew followed her throughout the day Tuesday.

“It was really embarrassing having them in class with me,” Schliesing said.

As she’s been fundraising for suicide awareness, Schliesing said, she’s heard a lot more stories connected with suicide than she expected.

“It’s a lot more prevalent than you might think,” she said. “People just aren’t talking about it.”