Christine and Dustin Sletten are grateful for the memories they have with their daughter, Taylor. But no parent expects to lose the opportunity to make future memories with their child.
On April 11, 2019, Taylor died by suicide at age 16. Three months later, her family is in the midst of handling the emotional and financial fallout — and raising awareness around mental health and related resources.
The family has chosen not to share the specifics of Taylor’s story, saying only that “we worked very hard for a long time.” Still, the West Concord family hopes to connect with parents and others whose loved ones struggle with mental health, urging them to address the issue before it’s too late.
“Parents may think it’s an act of attention or things like that, but 99% of the time, it’s not,” said Christine. “Parents need to understand the severity of it and they need to act on it.”
It’s especially difficult for the Slettens, they said, because they had sought professional help before Taylor’s suicide.
“We did everything we knew how to do, everything the professionals guided us to do. It just wasn’t enough, unfortunately, and we’re hoping to make parents aware that even if you think you’re doing everything, double-check your resources, reach out to more than just one professional, things like that,” said Christine.
The Slettens and their five children also feel the financial strain of funeral expenses, which Dustin described as “unbelievably expensive.”
It’s here that family friends like Christina Peterson have stepped up to organize a benefit event in Taylor’s memory, raising funds for funeral and headstone expenses and toeducate attendees about mental health resources.
The benefit is scheduled for 1–5 p.m. July 20 at the West Concord American Legion. Peterson and other organizers planned a meal, silent auction, raffle and bean bag tournament. Peterson also invites guests to keep Taylor’s memory alive through T-shirts, bracelets and other items available for purchase. In honor of Taylor’s interest in welding and car repair, guests can sign the derby car she built.
Area businesses and individuals have shown their support through silent auction donations of everything from handmade quilts to gift baskets to a half-hour plane ride.
“None of us know what it’s like to lose a child, but we also know that a family never financially prepares for something like that, so we just wanted to help the family out on those expenses,” said Peterson.
The benefit has the added goal of raising awareness of mental health resources, including the Open Arms Yellow Ribbon suicide prevention program of Owatonna, hotlines and other phone numbers to call for help, information from the Mayo Clinic and more.
Also attending is Darla Knutson, a Kasson resident who volunteers with the Crisis Text Line, a national service that connects people to trained counselors.
People in crisis moments — including suicidal individuals or others feeling overwhelmed by mental health concerns — who text 741741 are connected with volunteers like Knutson, who assess their immediate risk and help them work through a difficult moment.
In emergency cases, volunteers can notify local first responders to check on texters who may be in immediate danger, said Knutson.
Text and phone hotlines are available, but it’s more important for family and friends to check in with loved ones they suspect are struggling with suicidal thoughts, said Knutson.
Warnings signs that someone is considering suicide vary from person to person. In general, said Knutson, pay attention if the person withdraws from family, friends and the activities they enjoy. Other possible signs include sleeping more than normal, becoming overly excited or other uncharacteristic behaviors.
The Crisis Text Line also lists discussion of death or feeling trapped/hopeless, increased alcohol or drug use, aggressive behavior, researching suicide methods, giving away possessions and saying goodbyes as other warning signs.
If someone is in immediate danger, said Knutson, it’s imperative to call 911, even if you’re not sure.
In all cases, the best prevention is to open the conversation and encourage loved ones to seek professional help, if necessary.
“Just check on your friends, even if they seem fine,” said Knutson. “The stigma is horrible, but asking people if they’re suicidal is not going to make them suicidal.”
Dustin Sletten also advised parents to “stop what they’re doing and spend more time with their kids.”
Through the loss, the family has also experienced an outpouring of gratitude for the support they’ve received. In addition to the benefit, members of the West Concord Fire Department, who knew Taylor well, along with the Kenyon-Wanamingo School District and others connected with the family have helped wherever they can.
“I don’t know how to put it into words,” said Christine. “We’ve been amazed by multiple communities coming together and putting this on. It really shows the good in people and where their heart is.”
Said Dustin: “It’s really hard, because you don’t want to glorify something bad like this, but at the same time, you need to raise awareness of mental health.”