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Suicide prevention gets spotlight in Mitchell

Joy Anderson, left, a counselor with Dakota Counseling Institute, of Mitchell, pins a suicide awareness ribbon on Matt Britt, a junior at Dakota Wesleyan University, on Monday at the McGovern Library on DWU’s campus. The ribbons are a reminder that Sept. 8-14 is National Suicide Prevention Week. (Ross Dolan/Republic)

MITCHELL -- Mitchell churches and schools, along with medical and mental health organizations, will distribute 7,500 purple and turquoise awareness ribbons this week to remind area residents that Sept. 8-14 is National Suicide Prevention Week.

The event is spearheaded by the Mitchell Area Suicide Prevention Task Force, said Joy Anderson, a member of that group and a licensed counselor at Dakota Counseling Institute.

Instead of speaking of suicide in hushed tones, organizers are working to give a high profile to an uncomfortable topic

"The purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness about suicide," Anderson said.

There is a misconception, she added, that talking about suicide will give people the idea to kill themselves, but she said that's not the case.

"In reality, when someone is in enough emotional pain, they think about suicide as an option to escape the pain. We want to get the word out there that there is help and there is hope."

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, South Dakota's suicide rate is ninth highest in the United States across all age groups and seventh highest for ages 15 to 24. The state's suicide rate for that age group, 20.2 per 100,000 people, is almost double the national rate of 11 per 100,000. In youths ages 15-19, South Dakota's 20.3 suicides per 100,000 is more than two-and-a-half times the national rate of 7.6 per 100,000.

Young people are a target for this week's local campaign. The task force has donated park benches emblazoned with the Lifeline suicide prevention phone number (1-800-273-TALK) to the city skatepark and Second Chance High School.

The task force has also sponsored motivational speaker Lamarr Womble, who will speak today at Mitchell High School, Mitchell Middle School and Second Chance High School.

Second Chance Director Shane Thill said Womble's leadership talks -- which aim at building a positive self image -- are a protective measure against suicide.

Womble's message to students is to be fully engaged -- to be passionate about their education, their studies, and the activities that occupy their personal time.

Lapel ribbons and wallet cards listing suicide warning signs and the Lifeline number will be available for free this week at Mitchell High School, the Department of Social Services, court services offices at the Davison County courthouse, Mitchell Technical Institute, Dakota Wesleyan University, Pathway and Stepping Stones.

The task force provides free QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training to community groups. The training is for community members to learn warning signs of suicide, appropriate responses, and how to get people help.

Growing Through Grief, a grief therapy group for any adult who has lost a loved one, is another task force resource, which is offered several times a year at no out-of-pocket cost to participants. The next group is slated to begin in October. Anyone interested should contact Anderson at 605-996-9686.