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Month-long resilience project humanizes mental health struggles

"30 Days, 30 Stories" highlights 30 different South Dakotans and their personal struggles with their mental health throughout September.
"30 Days, 30 Stories" highlights 30 different South Dakotans and their personal struggles with their mental health throughout September.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and to bring more attention to mental health struggles, the South Dakota Humanities Council has partnered with Lost&Found to create a storytelling project sharing the mental health experiences of 30 South Dakotans.

The project, titled “30 Days, 30 Stories: Let’s #DoMore to Prevent Suicide,” first launched in 2021. Each day throughout September, one person shares their experiences with mental health struggles, suicide attempts, loss and resilience.

Lost&Found is a South Dakota-based nonprofit organization that aims to educate about and provide resources for mental health.

Heidi Marttila-Losure, director of communications at Lost&Found, said the project is meant to show people a more personal side to mental health struggles.

“One of the challenges that we sometimes run into is making the work we do personal so that people can really understand how mental health affects people’s daily lives,” she said.

Marttila-Losure also said the organization is telling real people’s stories to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. Their goal is to empower those who share their stories and to share resources like helplines and local mental health hospitals with readers.

“People who you might think, from the outside looking, ‘Wow, they have a really successful life, that’s a great career and life looks good,’ and then they tell their story, and there is much more to the story about how they have gotten to that point and the challenges they faced along the way,” she said.

The featured individuals each do a photoshoot and short video for the project and share their personal story, the resources that helped them navigate the challenges and what they think people can do to build resilience in their lives.

Lost&Found gathered participants through personal and professional networks, as well as an online call for public submissions.

Marttila-Losure said the group wanted to focus on young adults in South Dakota. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for 10 to 14-year-olds and for 25 to 34-year-olds.

“For young adults, there is right now … really I’d call it a dire need for help addressing a mental health crisis among young adults,” Marttila-Losure said.

Through last year’s project, the organization found some common themes from participants. For example, there were very few men who shared their stories, and most of the participants last year were white. This year, organizers sought a more diverse group of speakers.

The project also found that most participants relied on support from friends and family, counseling, therapy and educational information to get through their mental health struggles.

Marttila-Losure said overall, Lost&Found’s main goal is to provide support to those with mental illnesses or other mental health struggles.

“We’re not necessarily the counselors, we’re not a crisis line, we’re not working directly to address [the challenges],” she said. “We’re working on filling in the gaps and working on building systems that can help prevent suicide.”

Other programs Lost&Found provides are student mental health programs like peer mentorship and advocate groups on campuses, research and evaluation programs like community data services, education and training programs and Survivors Joining for Hope, a support program for survivors of suicide loss.

Jordan is a senior English and journalism major at SDSU in Brookings. She is from De Smet, South Dakota. She is based out of the Sioux Falls studio.