Stop the Silence

Stop the Silence
There is little in life that can cause more pain than a loved one committing suicide.

Janine Harris, a staff member of the Freedom Forum at the Al Neuharth Media Center on The University of South Dakota campus, still feels the sting after her 20-year-old daughter, Nikki Vallie Harris, took her own life on June 15, 2005.

Janine has chosen to move forward rather than become overwhelmed with grief. Her daughter will serve as the center point of a new suicide awareness campaign called "Stop the Silence."

It involves The University of South Dakota Student Counseling Center and Nikki's Fund, created in memory of Janine's daughter, to raise funds that will be earmarked to support medication needs for USD students who have financial need and are in crisis with suicidal feelings.

"Stop the Silence" activities include a noon forum that was held Wednesday at the Al Neuharth Media Center.

On Saturday, Sept. 15 at 9 a.m., a 5K run/walk that will include campus and community National Suicide Prevention Week activities will begin at Prentis Park in Vermillion to raise money for Nikki's Fund.

"Stop the Silence 5K Run/Walk" registration forms are available at the USD Student Counseling Center, which is located in room 336 inside Julian Hall, the Temporary Student Center on the USD campus, or the USD Student Portal at

Registration is also available at Prentis Park the day of the event beginning at 8 a.m. T-shirts and refreshments will be provided and prizes will be awarded for the first- and second-place finishers in the male and female categories of 15 and under, 16 to 25 years old, 26 to 54 years old, and 55 and over. There is a $10 registration donation per participant. All proceeds from the 5K run/walk will be donated to Nikki's Fund.

Janet Kittams-Lalley, clinical director of the HELP!Line Center in Sioux Falls, spoke at Wednesday's noon forum.

"The HELP!Line Center first and foremost is a crisis center," she told a group of university students. "We are the only certified suicide crisis center in the state of South Dakota, and with that, we carry the weight of what I feel is helping the entire state of South Dakota prevent suicide."

A tool used by the HELP! Line Center is a 24-hour crisis phone line that provides a connecting point for someone who is in a suicidal crisis, or who knows someone who is contemplating suicide. The crisis line also offers assistance to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. It can be reached in South Dakota by dialing 1-800-273-TALK.

"We have a very thorough policy and procedure," Janet said. "At some point along the way, we want to make sure that our callers are out of immediate danger and that we get help to them right away.

"Most of the time, callers are not in immediate danger," she said. "We spend time establishing a relationship, and connecting them with resources."

Statistics point out the need for the HELP!Line Center and for Nikki's Fund in South Dakota.

According to information provided by the USD Student Counseling Center, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students and the third leading cause of death among all youth 15-24 years old.

South Dakota is among a group of states in the western United States that consistently has a higher rate of suicide than the rest of the country. In 2004, suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24 in the state.

About 12 teenagers – one a month – dies of suicide in South Dakota each year.

Matt Stricherz, director of the USD Student Counseling Center, said "people commit suicide for many reasons – cultural reasons, religious reasons, depression, the affect of alcohol or drugs … but generally everyone who commits suicide has done something that helps give a warning ahead of time that something could be done."

The Student Counseling Center hopes to help a growing number of people in both the university and Vermillion communities become aware of those warning sides, and the proper steps that should be taken once they are detected.

ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) is available on campus. Contact the Student Counseling Center at 677-5777 for more information or to register for the next training session.

The training is also being offered for one college credit.

"If somebody is thinking about committing suicide, there are some ways in which our community here can provide a safety watch," Matt said.

Such resources are provided by individuals in the university's residence halls, by counseling centers and by supportive friends and family.

"The key is to get the person to a safe environment – a safe, emotional environment where people will listen. The more words that are spoken by those who are thinking of harming themselves – the more words that are spoken, the more likely there will be a good resolution to their issues at that moment."

Wednesday's noon forum ended with a brief, quiet plea from Janine.

"If you take anything with you today, please know there are resources here at USD, and there are resources here in this community," she said. "Don't ever be afraid to ask for help, because it's out there."

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