Tackling Mental Health Issues Facing South Dakota's Universities

Guest Blogger:  Erik Muckey, President, The Lost & Found Association

Guest Blogger: Erik Muckey, President, The Lost & Found Association

Finals week on a college campus is a time filled with hopeful anticipation for the holiday season and a long-awaited break from studies. Standing in the way of that break, of course, is a litany of final tests and projects that can make any person feel the stress of performance anxiety. Finals stress impacts every person differently, but strong coping skills aren’t only important for this time of year.


The world for the average young adult in South Dakota is dramatically different than what you might expect. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the second leading cause of death among young adults aged 14-25 in South Dakota is suicide. In the same age bracket, suicide is completed in South Dakota at a rate of 25 individuals per 100,000 population, over twice the national average of 11 per 100,000. Worst yet, available statistics show young adults are demonstrating suicide ideation—the act of contemplating or making a plan to complete suicide—at alarming rates, reaching almost 7% of young adults aged 18-25 in localized regions of South Dakota.

These statistics are sobering to any parent, school administrator, or student staring down new, challenging academic experiences away from the comfort of home. Keeping young adults in South Dakota healthy—and alive—must remain at top of mind in our state’s conscience and a reason to look carefully at the support systems in place.

The question is—how do we best help young adults in South Dakota struggling with depression, anxiety, or mental illness, let alone considering suicide?

First, listen. Especially in moments of crisis, communication is of the utmost importance, and actively listening can offer validation amidst an often-overwhelming state of mind. This also offers an opportunity to catch a glimpse into potential warning signs, such as feelings of entrapment, feeling burdensome to others, or suggestions of suicide ideation. Remember—there is no single cause for suicide, and not every person may exhibit warning signs.

Second, get acquainted with support resources available here in South Dakota. For immediate help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-8255—is available 24/7 and an important number to keep in mind in crisis. In South Dakota, the Helpline Center offers a crisis line (211) that is manned locally. Additionally, vast amounts of guidance and trainings are available online from local chapters of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Their tools can help the struggling young adult in your life while also helping you better understand how to take effective action when needed.

Most importantly, it is important for each of us to understand, no matter our age, that coping skills must always remain a critical part of our lives as a shield against suicide ideation. These skills take time to develop and must be reinforced in the bounds of a supportive community—friends, professors, family, and so on.

As the President of The Lost & Found Association (L&F), I work with an incredible team of local professionals and student leaders helping students at The University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University develop the coping skills necessary to thrive in all aspects of life. Finals week can be an incredibly stressful time of year at each campus, but L&F chapter members work to ensure students receive the support they need to get to their holiday break—and live well year-round.

Learn more about L&F by visiting our website, http://lafprevention.org, following our many social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat), or by calling us at 605-549-5281.