WATERTOWN, S.D. (AP) — The Codington County area has seen six suicides so far this year. Four of them were of people under the age of 20.
These numbers are alarming to Kelli Rumpza, a youth coordinator for the NE Prevention Resource Center, and growing concern for the mental health of youth in the community
The 2019 Live in the Path of Hope event saw up to 300 people. The 2020 event was held virtually because of COVID-19 restrictions.
In her job, Rumpza primarily addresses substance abuse in young individuals from ages 10 to 24. With the increasing number of youth suicides, the organization is also focusing on mental health.
“We see a lot of coexistence with mental health and people using substances as a coping mechanism,” Rumpza said. “We are here to meet people where they are at and help them make changes in their life. Our job is not to judge but to be there and guide them along their journey.”
There has been an increase in anxiety and depression in young people, said Rumpza. To help the community combat this, the resource center coaches individuals on how to self-care, the Watertown Public Opinion reported.
“A big piece is reflecting on how you take care of yourself. What influences you and what is your perception of different things?” she said.
Self-care is an important skill that individuals need, from the youngest child to the elderly. Being self-aware and caring for one’s self is a critical factor in suicide prevention.
“Sometimes they are in so much pain, they don’t know how to ask for help,” Rumpza said. “Specifically in the Midwest where we are expected to take care of ourselves and don’t want to bother other people. We have the mindset that we need to buck up and own it. Most people can move on. But for people suffering from suicidal thoughts, they don’t know how to deal with it, and they cannot think beyond the right here, the right now.”
Mental health disorders are not the only factor when dealing with suicide. Rumpza said that it is not always from depression and anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts can arise in people who are overwhelmed or are experiencing loss.
“There are many types of loss — the loss of income; loss of a family member, pets; a change in their community. It’s something that they feel hopeless and helpless about. These people are going through so much pain. Pain we cannot even comprehend. They feel like this is the only way they can be released from this pain,” she said.
The topic of suicide in itself also plays a role in its prevention. A community that speaks openly provides an opportunity for those suffering to express where they are with their thoughts and feelings.
“There is a lot of misunderstandings and stigma with suicide. We need to create a space where those who have lost someone to suicide feel comfortable talking about it. Suicide is something that makes people really uncomfortable. It’s even hard for me sometimes to talk about it,” Rumpza said.
To help fight against the stigma and negativity, there is an active shift away from how the act of ending one’s life is termed.
“When you say ‘committed suicide,’ you think of it as a crime, as a negative. We’ve been focusing on the language. Terming it ‘they died by suicide” or they ‘suicided.’ It’s not a criminal thing. It’s something they are dealing with. It’s something that happened to them,” said she said.
To help bring awareness and provide support to the community, Glacial Lakes SAFE sponsors Live in the Path of Hope, an annual 5-kilometer walk, run and remembrance ceremony. The event is the first Wednesday every September. The month of September is Suicide Awareness Month.
This is the seventh year of the event, and it is often framed around campaigns to help encourage people to participate. Rumpza said the 5K and remembrance event are emotionally powerful and have helped several heal from the pain of suicide.
“The reason why we all come together is such a sad reason, but it’s so empowering and caring. It’s bringing everyone together and knowing that others have struggled as well. You might be struggling, or you might know someone that is struggling, but we want them to know there are resources and caring people available to help them thrive and make it on to the next day. To let them know that we want them to keep going. We want them to stay,” she said.