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NSU's AWAREwolves shifts focus to suicide prevention

Aberdeen American News - 10/9/2017

Oct. 09--Werewolves are fictional creatures that are human during most of the month, but turn into wolves on a full moon.

AWAREwolves is a special-interest club at Northern State University dedicated to helping bring awareness to issues such as mental health and suicide prevention, alcohol abuse and drug addiction.

The group has grown on campus, said current president Matthew Mayfield, a junior at Northern.

"Last year we grew our numbers a lot," Mayfield said. "So we used that to do bigger events and get our name out on campus."

AWAREwolves recently received the South Dakota Youth Suicide Prevention Program grant for $25,000 from the state Department of Social Services to help the group provide more programming specifically around mental health and suicide prevention, said Erin Olson, counseling center program manager at Northern.

"It just seems like we've really stepped it up this year," Olson said.

The programs also operate under a $103,000Partnership for Success grant from the state Department of Social Services, Olson said.

One of AWAREwolves' first big pushes was a window display with 300 paper people, signifying the one in 10 Northern students that statistically have attempted suicide, Mayfield said. More than 50 percent of people will have suicidal thoughts.

"A lot of people don't think that it really affects anybody," Mayfield said.

In 2014, there were 141 suicide deaths in South Dakota, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was the ninth leading cause of death in the state.

"South Dakota is currently in a suicide epidemic," Olson said.

The group sponsored tie-dying during homecoming week, and has a plethora of other events planned for the school year, Mayfield said. Its biggest focus is campus safety.

They'd also like to get out into the community, Olson said. She's president of the Northern State University Campus Community Coalition, and they're hoping to get awareness training to emergency responders, teachers and the general public as well.

AWAREwolves and the coalition have switched focus from strictly alcohol-related issues to mental health and suicide issues, Olson said. Many alcohol issues can be traced back to mental health issues.

AWAREwolves isn't an anti-alcohol group, Mayfield said. It promotes responsible drinking, realizing that college students, especially those of legal age, will drink.

AWAREwolves works closely with the Northern counseling center, which provides free, confidential counseling to any student on campus, Olson said.

"We don't bill insurance," Olson said. "That's the biggest thing that I don't think that college kids know or even parents of students is that when they come in here, the only records that we keep are notes for the counselor."

Some people see counselors to help get through a rough time, like the death of a grandparent or a break up, or they may have a regular appointment to continue care, Olson said.

The counseling center is tucked away down a long hall next to the Centennial Rooms in Student Center 240, along with student health services, meaning it's easy to go in and out of, Olson said.

"Coming in here is no big deal," Olson said. "You sign up and go see a counselor and that's about it."

Northern also works with Northeastern Mental Health and may refer students if the counseling center can't provide the help they need, Olson said.

People are allowed to bring friends to appointments at the Norther counseling center if they're scared or shy, but many people feel confident after a session or two to come alone, Olson said.

"We try to keep it really friendly up here," Olson said.

Follow @kgrandstrandAAN on Twitter.

How students can get help at Northern State

--Talk to your resident advisor.

--Talk with a counselor, 605-626-2371 to make an appointment at the Northern Counseling Center. Appointments are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday when classes are in session.

--Call the Northeastern Mental Health crisis line, 605-229-1000.


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