SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – According to the South Dakota Department of Health, suicide is the leading cause of death among 10 to 29-year-olds in the state.
One organization based in Sioux Falls is on a mission to educate young adults and increase awareness around mental health resources.
Jenny Sengchanh is a senior at South Dakota State University and she’s a peer mentor on campus. This is her second year helping other students navigate their way through college through the Lost and Found mentorship program.
“I felt like as a freshman, I did feel lost in college and I wasn’t exactly sure how to transition from what I knew like from high school or college. It’s a whole different kind of world I feel,” said Sengchanh.
On top of being a first-generation college student, she also started her classes during the pandemic. Sengschanh knows how important feeling supported in a new environment can be.
“A mentor, then you also have the ability to give that advice on what to do, other resources that you’ve found throughout your journey in college,” said Sengschanh.
Erik Muckey, executive director of Lost and Found, agrees the pandemic revealed that mental health resources were needed more than ever.
“The pandemic really lit a match on a fire that was already burning. And so when we think about why we do what we do and the passion behind Lost and Found, it goes back to where you’re founded. The idea that maybe as audacious as it seems, young adults in our community, in our state have the opportunity to change the narrative, but also change how we operate and how we address mental health and suicide in the systems that we have,” Muckey said.
Within the past three years, they’ve been able to develop educational programming for Lost and Found. Carrie Jorgensen, a former counselor at SDSU, now program manager, has seen the effects firsthand.
“We noticed depression and anxiety signs and symptoms. Before that, of course, we were very, very busy at the counseling center, and then the pandemic hit and it just kind of blew up. Everybody was experiencing that; everybody was feeling isolated,” said Jorgensen.
She says the peer-to-peer and mentor programs allow students to speak freely with one another.
“Yes, being able to talk to your peers versus putting it out in front of a professor or something like that, I think does make a huge difference. They really like to connect with each other in that way,” said Jorgensen.
Muckey says young adults are the future of the community, which is why raising awareness about mental health resources is so important to him.
“South Dakota is my home. I don’t want to see my home experience that kind of pain consistently year after year and to see that impact it’s having on our next generation,” said Muckey.
Looking toward the future they hope to expand the program regionally so they can reach even more young adults.
“That’s really the best tool that we can give to our community is our ability to understand how we can help others and maybe at times how we can help ourselves,” Muckey said.
This summer Lost and Found received $100,000 from the state to develop an app for mental health resources. It also extended its mentorship program to a few colleges in Minnesota.