What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
Growing up in Mission, SD, I saw firsthand how mental health and suicide can impact individuals, families, and entire communities. Although I saw people in my community impacted by suicide, it wasn’t until high school that I first began to realize just how dramatically the incidence of suicide in this area of the state was disproportionate to other communities. Today, Todd County remains in the top five counties in South Dakota with the highest rates of suicide, with teens and young adults most affected.
Although there have been times in my own life that I have struggled with balancing my mental health while also engaging in life and working to become the person I wanted to be, I have always been fortunate to have an immense support system of a family that has helped and supported me. I recognize that not everyone who finds themselves in a challenging time in their life can access the resources and services they may most benefit from.
This was one of the reasons that later in my life I began to explore how health disparities and the social determinants of health can influence mental and physical health. What I have learned over the years is that sizable disparities exist in South Dakota. They are based on factors such as where a person lives, their age, and their ethnicity. Native communities are dramatically more affected by suicide than other ethnic groups, despite programs and policies targeting these communities and individuals.
As an occupational therapist, I have seen other ways that mental health challenges affect individuals in South Dakota. Not only is mental health sometimes overlooked, but the most appropriate mental health care can be difficult to access. Despite a growing emphasis nationwide to address mental health, a stigma remains around asking for or receiving the help that may be most needed. Because of this, I remain passionate about advocating for access to mental health services and continuously working to better understand how to best promote mental health.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
Developing a support network of family and friends has been the most beneficial for me. Especially during times when I thought I was fine, having a trusted person who knows me well and not giving up on supporting me has made a big impact.
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?
Continuing to work to de-stigmatize asking for and accepting help for mental health concerns is needed in our society. Working to make it the norm to get the help and resources that are needed to address mental health in an easily accessible way is critical. This process needs to start early in life when children develop lifelong habits that can contribute to their mental and physical health throughout their entire life.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
Managing mental health is a lifelong journey that everyone faces in some way. While we never truly reach a point where we no longer need to pay attention to our mental health, over time we can develop skills that will make this journey seem easier. Being a resource and support when someone is facing a challenging time in their life and doing so with grace and compassion is important.