Strengthening the community in a unique way


WAGNER, S.D. (KELO) — Many of us may know someone who has been affected by suicide. According to the South Dakota suicide prevention website, suicide was the 9th leading cause of death in the state. In that same year there were 192 deaths to suicide. One South Dakota group is hoping to turn those statistics around by starting in their community.

The sun is peaking out of the clouds on Chad Kreeger’s ranch near Wagner, after dealing with rain for days.

It’s been a difficult start to spring for farmers and ranchers in many communities across KELOLAND.

“We started out cold, really cold, and then from there we went to wet, really wet, been a challenge to get to feed, a challenge to get it to the cattle, just mud, stuck, you seen the road coming in here, challenge to get out,” Kreeger said.

Some people may not realize the stress these conditions can cause for farmers and ranchers. That is something that hits home for Kreeger.

“A little over two years ago I lost a friend, it’s hard, it’s hard. I think a lot of farmers and ranchers spend a lot of time alone, that’s how it is, you go out and do your job, you do it alone, so you get to thinking, and sometimes it’s not always pretty,” Kreeger said.

Suicide and mental illness can affect anyone, from any age, to all walks of life.

“Whether it’s a family member, a personal experience, coworker, or even just a community member, everyone has stressful times in their life and difficult times and some are visible and some are not,” RN and clinical coordinator at Wagner Community Clinic Avera, SOC Committee member, Connie Kaufman said.

That’s why it’s important for one group in Wagner to spread awareness about mental health.

“The SOC committee is really a cross section of our entire community so we have people from the Yankton Sioux Tribe, from Avera, from Indian Health, Headstart, the school, our business community, so it’s a little bit of everybody,” school psychologist, SOC Committee member, Ericka Kotab said.

The SOC Committee was formed about a year ago. The group uses socks as a fun way to spread awareness.

“We use the metaphor such as socks that you wear on your feet because it’s a playful way to talk about a difficult subject, so everybody wear socks so everyone can talk about mental health, mental illness,” Kotab said.

Students at school are also getting in step and wearing silly socks as a way to show their support.

The South Dakota suicide prevention website says suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth and young adults in the state.

“There’s a stigma around suffering that level of isolation gets compounded and it’s never what happens to you, it’s that you can’t share it and heal from it,” SOC Committee member, Amy Doom said.

“Talking about mental health helps them because they think they’re the only ones going through that, so if they know that other people go through that, whether that’s their peers, or adults, that will help them get through that,” unit director at Marty Boys and Girls Club, Jodi Zephier said.

And even community members are getting involved. Ruth Leines owns the store ‘This, That, and More,’ in town. She sells the socks in her store. The topic is something that she knows all too well.

“When I was a teenager, I had those thoughts, I didn’t succeed, and I had a cousin who succeeded, you don’t know until you’re that close and these aren’t thoughts that just go away without help, you need to know that  you’re loved, you need to know there’s community, you need to know there’s somebody that can help you,” owner This, That, and More, Ruth Leines said.

She says she’s happy with the work the SOC Committee is doing.

“People shy away from talking about it because it’s a tough subject, mental health and suicide are not something people want to talk about, and some people don’t know how,” Leines said.

The members of the SOC Committee say they hope to decrease the stigma around mental health, and continue the work they are doing to spread awareness.

“Explain that it’s ok to have that conversation and to reach out for help, and to support one another in their journey towards wellness,” Kotab said.

“I think what they’re doing is awesome, there’s always somebody out there willing to listen, it’s hard to reach out, but it’s important, if you’ve got those feelings you need to reach out, someone is there and there’s always someone willing to listen,” Kreeger said.

A step in the right direction for everyone in the community.

Kotab says the group has held events in the community to help raise awareness.

For resources on mental health click here.

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