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Establishing a good support network during mental health awareness month

Mental health awareness month continues through May.
Joe Houghton
Getty Images
Mental health awareness month continues through May.

May is mental health awareness month, and across the state folks are taking a breath to focus on self-care.

After the intense isolation and uncertainty brought on by the political climate of the last few years and COVID-19, mental health treatment has only become more relevant.

Kari Oyen is the director of the school psychology program at the University of South Dakota. She said don’t underestimate the value of social interactions.

“The social-emotional system is running rampant," Oyen said. "We do a lot of what we call reward seeking, so when you are beyond the age of 10 there’s a dip in your dopamine. Dopamine is the thing that makes you feel good when you get rewards. That’s what’s happening – you get that reward seeking – but what’s so fascinating about adolescents is you mostly feel those things in the presence of peers. There is a lot of perhaps misperception that is happening for our adolescents, and they really are perceiving that they are feeling quite isolated.”

Dr. Wallace Jackman with Avera said there are tangible effects to social media use.

“There’s a direct link between the amount of time folks spend on social media and their distress level, anxiety and depression," Jackman said. "There’s a lot of research that supports that. We also know about 86 percent of adolescents sleep with their phone. We know sleep problems can contribute to more anxiety, more depression.”

But Jackman said we can’t be afraid of difficult conversations that surround mental health.

“That myth I think is still floating out there that would cause the person to commit suicide or hurt themselves," Jackman said. "Research supports just the opposite. By asking folks those questions, ‘how are you doing,’ ‘you seem different today,’ or asking them if you know they have a history of depression or suicide, ‘are you feeling suicidal?’ Research shows that decreases the likelihood they will commit suicide because there’s a caring individual that’s intervening to help them.”

If you experience a severe mental health episode, call the suicide and crisis lifeline free of charge at 988 to be put on the line with a crisis counselor.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture