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‘Epidemic’ of depression and suicide led to creation of local TV miniseries

“Understanding Depression: The Suicide Connection” will air in the Twin Cities on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. on KSTP-TV beginning Feb. 28.

Co-hosts Jim Jordan and Mary Hanson of “Understanding Depression: The Suicide Connection.”
Courtesy of Jim Jordan

The first time Jim Jordan appeared on “The Mary Hanson Show,” he was a fill-in.

“Years ago, Mary called and asked me to appear on her show,” Jordan recalled. “She was doing a program about depression and she wanted to interview a psychiatrist. The person she’d originally booked couldn’t make it, so she called me at the last minute. I came in, did the show. I guess you could say it worked out.”

Jordan, former medical director at St. Paul’s Hamm Psychiatric Clinic, worked out so well as a guest on Hanson’s popular cable-access program that he has collaborated with her on several special projects over the years.

Hanson and Jordan’s most recent project is “Understanding Depression: The Suicide Connection,” a five-part miniseries that will air in the Twin Cities on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. on KSTP-TV beginning Feb. 28. (The program has already aired on Metro Cable Network Channel 6 and TPT-2, and will air this spring on several regional cable access channels. In April, the series will also be available on YouTube.)

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The pair was inspired to create the series, which investigates the impact of suicide on individuals, families and society at large, out of a sense of urgency.

“Rates of suicide are rising in the United States,” said Hanson. “Public health experts are saying, ‘We have an epidemic on our hands.’ We felt that this was something that needed to be addressed in a serious way.”

The impact of suicide goes beyond an individual and his or her family, Jordan said. Such deaths create ripples that spread throughout a community. He’s worked for more than three decades in mental health, and he knows through firsthand experience just how devastating a death by suicide can feel to those left behind. 

“The impact of each suicide on a community is a tragedy,” Jordan said. “It’s dreadful. Even within a community of clinicians, a suicide is devastating. If a suicide it happens with a patient a clinic, it will impact the care there for months. It impacts every patient: The therapists will have to handle it, to work through their emotions. It mobilizes the deepest parts of birth and death.” 

Deserving of air time

At first, Hanson and Jordan thought they could tackle the subject in a three-part series, but after they began compiling interviews for broadcast, it quickly became clear that the project merited more time.

“It’s been a huge undertaking, more than I would’ve expected, but a very meaningful one for me and an important one for people who are interested in the topic and can learn from it,” Hanson said. “When you first set out to create a program like this, three 30-minute shows seems leisurely, but very quickly you realize that 90 minutes just isn’t enough time to cover all the bases. And with this topic, we had a lot of bases to cover.”

Since the series has aired, Hanson said she has been approached by people who say they are grateful that she gave the topic the time it deserved. Now, she’s looking forward to sharing the program with KSTP’s larger audience.

“I think the audience for a program like this is very broad,” Hanson said. “When I walk around town, people come up to me all the time, anyone from the clerk at Super America to my doctor to a person on the street who just came up to me and said, ‘I saw that show and it was so helpful for me.’ I think that’s just the best thing I can hear. What we’re hoping for is to offer information and alternatives for people, to present it in a way that is both informative and informative.” 

Alternatives and resources offered

After “Understanding Depression” has aired on KSTP, DVDs of the series will be distributed to schools, libraries, physicians’ offices and community centers around the region. Beyond telling the stories of suicide survivors and investigating experts’ efforts to reduce the number of deaths by suicide, each program emphasizes alternatives to suicide and resources for help. The goal, Hanson said, is to get the program into the hands of as many people as possible.

“The most important thing in the program is the very last thing,” she said. “It’s the suicide hotline and lifeline phone number. If a suicidal person who is watching the program writes that number down and calls for help, that might be a real, direct preventative thing.” 

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Hanson’s show is the longest-running cable television program in the United States. While audiences are loyal to her informed-yet-honest interview style, they also appreciate Jordan’s depth of knowledge on psychological issues. The two work well together, and when Jordan approached her with the idea of creating this series, Hanson was excited. She said she knew from experience that their collaboration would be fruitful.

“I jumped at the opportunity to work with Jim. He’s such a leader in the mental health field, and on a topic as important as this, having him as a co-host is absolutely key.”