PARKSTON — About two dozen people gathered at the Parkston Fire Hall on Sunday afternoon to discuss ways of identifying and addressing the emotional toll the year has taken on many in the area.
Counselors Margie Neugebauer, Donna Aldridge and Hali Hutcheson spoke at the event about grief, stress, loss and suicide, which have been especially prevalent for farmers across southeastern South Dakota during a year of record-breaking precipitation.
"We need to get this information, like this, to a local community, because we've all got feelings; we're all affected by the farm crisis," said Neugebauer, who grew up in Parkston. "People who live in town, they're affected by it, even if they don't want to admit it. We all are. This affects everybody in our state."
Dan Kurtenbach first asked Neugebauer about the possibility of hosting counselors in Parkston in September, when he attended the South Dakota Farm and Ranch Stress Summit in Oacoma. Neugebauer had been part of the planning team for the summit.
"I just thought it had to be done," said Kurtenbach, who was also motivated by the loss of 15-year-old Parkston native Taylor Thuringer, who died in August in a crash south of the town, and the effect it had on the community.
Kurtenbach said he was glad to see people who work on Parkston's Main Street attending the event, as well as emergency responders.
Neugebauer, who is one of three people in the state certified in the Grief Recovery Method, then worked on setting up the event and learned that Hutcheson was a counselor in Parkston's hospital.
Neugebauer's presentation focused on how to be empathetic toward people experiencing grief and to focus on listening to a grieving person, rather than trying to resolve or dismiss their grief.
"The main point I hope they got was, you have to listen to people empathetically, and grief is a heart issue, not a head issue. We have to deal with the heart, and the heart is emotions, so we have to get the emotions out," Neugebauer said.
Aldridge went on to talk about the physiological side of stress, including its symptoms, such as pain, loss of interest in activities and forgetfulness. She also referenced stress-relieving techniques and the parts of the brain that handle stress, likening stress to an "enemy army" that may need to be fought with medication.
"There is zero difference in taking an antidepressant and me giving myself a shot for my diabetes. I have no more control over my pancreas than we have over out neurotransmitter cells in our brains when we've got stressors," Aldridge said. "There is no shame or issue with taking medication when something's not working right."
Hutcheson concluded the event with information about South Dakota's suicide rate, which is the sixth-highest in the country, and possible indicators of suicidal ideation. She said that in South Dakota, like in the U.S. as a whole, suicide is the tenth most common cause of death overall, but is the second most common for teenagers and young adults.
"People are so afraid to talk about grief and suicide. And so if you have a public event, that usually says to the community, 'We know this is an issue,'" Neugebauer said. "We need to talk about it. Come out and get some information and talk about it."