Mental Health Committee | Focus on South Dakota

During the May episode of South Dakota Focus, host Jackie Hendry discussed trends in youth mental health with a panel of local experts. The discussion ended with a review of additional resources for parents and other adults who want to support children and teens in their lives.

Jackie Hendry: “For adults who listen and want to understand what they might be looking for, which is outside the realm of normal teenage thoughts and feelings. What raises this threshold into something that is a cause for concern and intervention? Or any other additional resources you’d like to highlight, sort of your final thoughts. Dr. Jackmon, we’ll start with you.

Wallace Jackmon, PhD, clinical psychologist at Avera Medical Group: “They can find resources on the National Alliance of Mental Health, on NAMI. SAMHSA, the government addictions mental health agency. They can find resources there. Obviously, contacting any clinician or Avera can be beneficial. I think people can go in many directions.

But as far as the parents are concerned [and] what things they should be looking for. I mean obviously depression – when you look at depression there are nine symptoms of depression and one of them is suicidal ideation, but there are eight other symptoms. And that includes, but not limited to, you know, their focus is off. Their eating and sleeping habits are different. Their self-esteem goes down. They are more irritable or moody. That would be the kind of stuff people might want to look for from an adult perspective for their kids.

Jackie Hendry: “Dr. Oyen?”

Kari Oyen, PhD, director of the school psychology program at USD: “First of all, you know, to echo what Dr. Jackmon is saying, I think it’s the combination of irritability, but also, you know, if we do a lot of withdrawal. Or maybe a characteristic that I would hear from a lot of parents would be “my son or my daughter loved doing…” whatever. ‘is football or ‘I was in the art club. I was thriving in that environment’, and now ‘I can’t even get them out of their room. Or, ‘something in which I have had fun once, I really lost the fun.” And I think that’s a mark of something else that’s going on.

Now to get into some of the social media stuff. One of the things that can be such a protective factor for teens is really having someone to help you figure it all out. So, first of all, maybe we can try to limit some of the catastrophic scrolling, which is endless hours of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling content. But also having space and time to connect with your teenager to help them make sense of what they’re seeing and help them, you know, maybe distinguish between perception and reality. So we can try to have some of those conversations.

And the other thing I would say to parents is don’t be afraid to have these conversations.

I think sometimes we fear our own fear reaction when our kids are going through a tough time, [and that] can make it very difficult to have these conversations. But if we come to our children as calm, regulated adults and say we want to help you, you’d be surprised at the progress we can make.

Kari Oyen, PhD

I guess more than anything, I think it’s great to feel comfortable talking about these things. If you want some advice or conversation starters, South Dakota Suicide Prevention has some great resources for you to talk to your teens about some of these things that may seem a little scary, but don’t be afraid to have the conversation because sometimes it seems like we don’t have it that it will go away. I think it’s not serving our children as well as talking about them.

Jackie Hendry: “Erik Muckey, how would you like to conclude?”

Erik Muckey, CEO of Lost & Found: “Increasingly, the most important thing we find, particularly in the work we do with peer mentoring, is that people don’t always feel confident and equipped to have this conversation. And so what we’re trying to offer, you know, echoing Dr. Oyen, we’re a member of the suicide prevention task force for the state of South Dakota. So echo that, please go to the South Dakota Suicide Prevention website, you’ll have plenty of resources to carry around. From Lost & Found we have a little framework we use to say “we want to talk mental health, use your EARS: engage, assist, empower and see”. Get people to adopt this behavior, understand how you have the conversation, but more importantly, how do you listen to someone and give them that reinforcement and ability to ask for help? It is attached to the Let’s Talk About Mental Health guide that we share…

But also at the hard end of that spectrum where you see people experiencing loss through suicide, there are a lot of resources in the community. And as a partner in this space, we work really closely with our partners in the eastern half of South Dakota with the Helpline Center and their support groups, which are now increasingly available across the state. Also the Front Porch Coalition in the Black Hills. Lost & Found offers a program specifically focused on providing financial assistance to survivors of suicide called Survivors Joining for Hope… It’s open to anyone, and more importantly, we offer this type of direct resource for a family to tell if we’re amid loss by suicide and a bit of the crisis that goes with it. We are happy to help be a link to other community resources. So no matter what side of the spectrum you’re on in terms of mental health, suicide risk, and suicide loss, we might have something for you.

Additional resources for parents and schools

Kari Oyen provided links to additional resources following our roundtable.

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