Both of my parents were mental health professionals. My father was a psychiatrist, my mom, a psychiatric registered nurse. They worked every day of their careers to care for and help people struggling with mental illness. Perhaps their calling was pre-destined, as they themselves struggled with mental health issues during their lives.

Perhaps it is a family thing. I and my siblings have all dealt with depression. But it is much easier to talk about now than it was even a few years ago. Mental health is just as, if not more important than our physical health.

Nationally, 1 in 5 adults, 1 in 7 children (ages 2 to 8), and 1 in 5 youths (ages 13 to 18) (right around 60 million people) are affected by mental illness. The impact of mental illness, (locally and nationally) on everything from the criminal justice system to the economy of businesses, is startling and public mental health services are inadequate to meet the need. That is where organizations like NAMI South Dakota come in.

The statistics on mental illness in South Dakota are significant and surprising. In January of 2018, it was revealed that South Dakota had set a new record for death by suicide. The exact number has not been released, but it is somewhere north of 173 people who died by suicide, which is often the result of untreated or under-treated mental illness. Approximately 17 percent of South Dakota's adult population lives with mental illness.

NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which provides education, support, and advocacy to people impacted by mental illness. A big part of their grassroots work is to simply raise awareness about mental illness and thanks to their efforts, attitudes about mental illness are changing and lives have been saved.

This Sunday, October 7, from 6 to 8 PM at the First Lutheran Church at 327 S. Dakota Avenue in downtown Sioux Falls, NAMI Sioux Falls is holding a family-friendly Candlelight Vigil.

This event begins Mental Illness Awareness Week. There will be speakers, prayer, and even treats, as voices are raised to acknowledge the struggle for mental health and offer support for those at risk.

For more information, see NAMI Sioux Falls online and on Facebook or call 605-610-7226.

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