Photo by Charity Maness/Fall River County Herald-Star
Mark Urban, Community Engagement and Partnerships Specialist with the Black Hills VA, is passionate about suicide prevention education and has created the Hot Springs Veteran Suicide Prevention Coalition.
By Charity Maness
HOT SPRINGS – Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and considered to be a national public health issue, and one that the Veteran Suicide Coalition of Hot Springs is battling with outreach, education and empathy.
Suicide affects every socio-economic demographic, it knows no prejudice with an average of 132 deaths per day – 22 of which are veterans. These deaths often cause a catastrophic ripple effect, not only within their families, but also in their communities.
According to Mark Urban, a Community Engagement and Partnerships Specialist with the Black Hills VA and Veteran Suicide Coalition, suicide prevention education is the cornerstone to aiding a community in recognizing and responding to mental health crisis.
“I care about people,” Urban said. “We want to get them help, no matter if they are a veteran or not, we are all connected.”
Urban began his counseling career in 2006 and began working with the VA in 2019. He soon realized that there was a need to address suicide prevention education for not only veterans but the community as a whole and formed the Veteran Suicide Coalition in August 2020.
Though the coalition is the brainchild of Urban, the group is an ever-growing collection of community members, business owners and emergency response personnel each volunteering their time to embrace the community and actively participate in reducing the mental health stigma in our society.
Though the group currently is focusing on suicide prevention education, Urban is casting a wider net for further progress stressing, “It’s important to have the correct response to a completed suicide utilizing best practices. Using correct messaging about suicide and taking care of families and loved ones; taking care of survivors.”
Access to mental health care is often the issue of families and those facing a crisis.
According to Urban, the nationwide number of mental health providers’ average 1 per 600 persons, yet in South Dakota that number is only 1 per 2,400 persons.
Brad Keizer of United Way stated that in a region-wide assessment “mental health was at the top of that list” and was being addressed.
The local non-profit group Casting Vets has filled a gap locally for veterans transitioning as well as veterans at risk.
“Our mission is to help veterans integrate back into the community,” said Casting Vets Director Julius ‘JJ’ Johnson of his program to get veterans back out into the world with purpose through outdoor activities. “But we realize there is a need to help the families and community too and hope to connect youth with veterans this summer for a Hook ‘Em and Cook ‘Em day teaching safety, catching fish, cleaning and cooking them.”
The coalition is striving to create an organized and planned approach for persons with risk factors for suicidal ideation through community, health system and provider organization coordination.
Behavioral Management Systems located at #3 Canyon View Circle in Hot Springs, is a community mental health center offering mental health services to children, adolescents, families and adults.
“We also offer System of Care services,” said Kim McNemar, Clinical Site Supervisor. “This is a service in which our coordinators aid families in linking into resources within their community.” For more information call 605-745-6222.
The Fall River Veteran Service Office is also a resource, for not only veterans, but also their dependents and some family members. The local VSO can assist on a variety of topics including, but not limited to, rehabilitation, correction of military records, review of discharges, employment and unemployment, medical and dental treatment and alcohol and drug dependency treatment. For more information on what this office can provide please call 605-745-5146.
Additionally, Urban offers a free education program titled ‘SAVE’ an acronym for Signs, Asking the question, Validate, and Encourage/Expedite help. SAVE is a suicide prevention training designed to help people help those who may be at risk for suicide while dispelling myths and providing tactical tools.
Urban wants people to realize that there is help. “I cannot stand to see people suffer and hurt, I have personally been in the depths of despair and once you immerge from that you can see that there is a beautiful world out there, I want that for everybody.”
If you need to talk and are not sure where to go, South Dakota urges its residents to dial 211, which is a phone number that can help direct callers to services including for those who are dealing with a personal crisis.
One can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), where, if you are a veteran, can press ‘1’ for specialized assistance.