What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
My life changed one fall evening in 2014. I was about to catch a volleyball game with some friends from high school in my small hometown. One group member was not answering his phone, so I decided to swing by his house to see what was taking so long. When I walked through the door, I found him attempting to take his life.
At 18 years old, I had never been educated on how to handle the situation—suicide was not often discussed, especially in rural South Dakota. I decided to intervene and help my friend in the best way I knew at the time. Luckily, this friend of mine is still alive today. I often reflect on that moment and think about how fortunate I was that this situation did not end up differently, as I later found out there were better ways to handle that situation.
Shortly after my friend’s suicide attempt, I lost two former cross-country teammates to suicide. I mourned and searched for answers. How, as individuals and as a community, could we be better? During this time, I also started therapy for myself. I also sought out solutions during this time. Not just for myself but for rural communities like the one I grew up in. Why weren’t the topics of mental health and suicide being discussed? This led to a research project with my professor at the University of South Dakota, which later became an organization called Break the Chains 17. The organization’s goal was to go to rural communities and schools in South Dakota to provide education on bullying, share the warning sides of suicide, explain what to do in times of crisis, and provide resources for the students. The organization has recently rebranded and is now known as “The Unseen Struggle.” This transformation focuses on the mission of sharing stories related to mental health and increasing awareness about invisible illnesses/diseases. “The Unseen Struggle” will place a strong emphasis on education and the dissemination of inspirational narratives, all to break down the stigmas and provide hope around these significant subjects.
While I wouldn’t want anyone to go through the experiences mentioned earlier, it’s important to understand that these situations are not isolated incidents; they can potentially affect anyone. This is why having conversations and spreading awareness about these subjects is of utmost importance. By doing so, we contribute to the overall health and wellness of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities as a whole.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
I grew up in a small rural community in South Dakota, where resources for dealing with mental health were limited at the time. When I began experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, I felt ashamed and alone. Luckily, improved telehealth options are available for those in rural communities (so check into that)!
Once I started college, things changed. I began attending therapy sessions at the University of South Dakota’s counseling center, which I learned about through my sorority sisters. If you are in school, look into these resources! Upon being diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder, I was fortunate to have supportive friends and family around me. Finding a group that will support you and your mental well-being is important.
It’s been nine years now! I’ve continued with therapy, and it’s been a game-changer. When things feel unmanageable for me, I try prioritizing baths, eight hours of sleep, cycling classes, making time blocks in my schedule, and ensuring I attend my therapy sessions! I’ve also used medication to manage my anxiety, and having a supportive primary care physician who prioritizes mental health has been crucial. Whether it is therapy or medication, know there are solutions out there for you to make things more manageable. It takes time, but it’s worth it!
Think about the system that affects our mental health in our society, including aspects that are damaging to mental health and aspects of the system that improve mental health. Based on your experience, how might we improve that system to build resilience and better address the mental health needs of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities?
Prevention, conversation, and education! We can build better prevention systems in our communities to help create a more resilient community that better addresses the mental health needs of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. Starting the implementation of prevention, conversation, and education at earlier ages in our homes and in our schools is a great first step.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
Mental health challenges, suicidal thoughts/ideation, and suicide are not “selfish.” As individuals and as a community, we can all be better at understanding and supporting those who face any of these conditions.