It’s OK and You’re Not Alone: Mental Illness
by Lindsie Bartley, SDEC Campus Director

When I was 21 I gave the hardest speech of my life; a eulogy for a dear friend. We had been friends since we were 6 years old. He was one of the greatest people I have ever known. My friend took his own life while home for Christmas break. Suicide is not something that can be easily understood and many loved ones will continue to search for answers their whole lives. As I continued to search for my own answers, I began reading, researching and studying mental illness. I am, by no means, an expert on this topic but I think mental health awareness should be treated just like cancer, diabetes and heart disease awareness.

Having the ‘winter blues’ this time of year is a real thing. Many people are more anxious and depressed around the holidays and during the colder months. South Dakota winters can be long and sometimes just plain depressing. Mental illness can peak in adults ages 18-24 so if you work closely with this student population please continue to train and educate yourself as often as possible. Most college students have never left home, may have no friends and are adjusting to a new way of life. While many students assimilate into college, there are still many that do not.

As much as I believe in awareness, I also believe in paying it forward. Here are a few symptoms of someone who may be struggling with mental illness: feeling sad or withdrawn, extremely fatigued, tired and unmotivated, out of control risk taking behavior, significant weight gain or loss, severe mood swings, changes in personality or sleeping habits, difficulty sitting still or concentrating and intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities.

What can you do to help? First, help de-stigmatize mental illness and help promote access to mental health counseling and support. If you work at a university, are mental health services listed on the website easily accessible? Encourage students to get help before problems intensify. Share resources and strategies with colleagues for students to stay in school. Link community and college mental health services and encourage students to get help. Encourage students to join peer groups. And most important, listen, refrain from being judgmental and offer help.

Even though mental illness may peak between ages 18-24, that does not mean it cannot affect someone at any age. I encourage all of you to attend First Aid Mental Health classes in your community. The next training in Brookings is January 26th, 2017. For more details visit

I will leave you with one of my most favorite quotes of all time because I truly believe we should walk without judgment.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”   – Atticus Finch

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