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Mothers team up to fight mental health stigma

Two parents suffered an unthinkable loss. Now, they are working with others to raise awareness around suicide.
Credit: KARE, Tegna, NBC

ELK RIVER, Minnesota — It's been nearly two years since Janet Casperson and Shannon Lee lost their children to suicide. 

"We will forever look at life through a different lens," Lee said. 

Sam Casperson died Jan. 2, 2020. Six weeks later, his girlfriend Ashlyn Ripple died Feb.17, 2020. Casperson was a student at Blaine High School, and Ripple attended Spring Lake Park. 

"Sam had lost a few friends to suicide that year and was really struggling," his mother said. "I even asked him if it was something he would do, and he told me no." 

The grief of losing Sam weighed heavily on Ashlyn. Her mother said she took time away from work to be home with her daughter as they went to therapy and navigated the sorrow. 

"She felt responsible for not being able to save him," Lee said, "and there were kids who made her feel that way as well."

The overwhelming grief brought the mothers close together. It got them thinking that they had to do something to prevent this from happening to other families. 

They soon got a call from Thumbs Up for Mental Health, a non-profit started in 2014 that works to educate the community on suicide prevention, and creates safe spaces for students to talk about mental health. 

Their ninth annual 5k walk/run is being held Sept. 17, at Woodland Park in Elk River. It's in honor of those lost to suicide, and also a comforting space for those impacted by the loss. 

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Casperson and Lee have drawn in attention to the event on social media. Their platforms have become a way to advocate for kindness, conversations and a way to share resources. 

"We have gone to the Minnesota Capital and helped pass a $1 million digital well-being bill." Casperson said. 

The mothers are pushing for safer spaces online for children where often times bullying is a mainstay. According to a survey by StopBullying.gov, 15% of students ages 12-18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, 15 % were bullied online or by text. Research shows the harm from cyber-bullying can be far more lasting and severe than the typical school-yard bully name calling.

"We can't change the past," Lee said.

Lee says they can try to make a positive impact in the future. 

"If we can save one life and save another family from the heartache we go through every single day, then we did our job," Casperson said. 

More than a thousand people are signed up for the Thumbs Up for Mental Health walk. If you would like to register or donate, click here. 

If you or someone you know is facing a mental health crisis, there is help available from the following resources:

RELATED: Anonymous donor gives $3 million to help local nonprofit address youth mental health crisis

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