Thanks to psychiatric nurse Dale Knode and Paradigm Treatment Centers, I had the opportunity to keynote and present three times at the Yankton Mental Health Conference. The audience was 250 strong and was comprised of counselors and mental health workers across the area and held on the beautiful Mount Marty College campus.

Sessions at the conference covered the vicissitudes of dementia, burn out, sex trafficking, trauma, addiction and the courts and the heartbreak of a mother seeing her beautiful daughter die from an overdose. I had the privilege of debuting my presentation Where Have All The Kids Gone: Gen Z, the Digital Age, Ethics and Aging.

Having never been to South Dakota before, I had no expectations. The low flat farmland, which looked beautiful to my untrained eye, had been ravaged by winter storms. Water and new pools looking like beautiful lakes stood where crops were supposed to be planted.

For many of the farmers, this was the second year their fields lie dormant causing financial loss, anxiety and stress. A special task force and monies have been allocated to set up to help farmers. The local television station featured locals delivering chocolate chip cookies to farmers as far away as Nebraska and Iowa to show their support. Talk about random acts of kindness.

Water, fishing and hiking are outdoor pastimes along with 4-H Club activities. Rabbits are used as service animals with aging seniors and homegrown strawberry rhubarb pie is a local favorite. Charlie’s Pizza is a town institution, serving up hot fresh pizzas since 1956.

Despite the idyllic setting, I learned the ravishes of substance abuse and mental health issues like other states across the country do not leave South Dakota unscathed. South Dakotans have a community integration approach to solving problems and psychiatric services are delivered to the home and outreach workers bring meds to needy clients and help them with life skills.

Folks were concerned about texting and driving and were eager to learn how to reduce the risks associated with this risky behavior. The small town of Yankton (population 14,000) had experienced four texting and driving-related deaths. Screensaver tips were much appreciated as well as a needed talk on Gen Z and their ‘Stealth Bomber’ parents.

While the state, like many others, is receiving funds to combat the opioid crisis, alcohol remains the number one drug of choice. Still, opioids and other hard drugs take a toll on this state. Local newscaster Angela Kenacke, founded “Emily’s Hope” after her beautiful 21 year-old daughter died last May from a fatal overdose of heroin and fentanyl. The nonprofit provides financial support to those struggling with addiction to find the help they need in treatment.

Kenacke is working hard to develop legislation, scholarships and prevention programs that provide treatment, education and hope for those struggling with addiction. Still raw in her grief, she continues to fight to save lives as it’s only been a year since her daughter Emily was found alone in her apartment with a needle sticking out of her arm and no pulse.

For many in the room and in the larger community, marijuana is also a rising issue of concern. Seen as a “starter kit” that in and of itself could cause a substance induced psychosis as well as schizophrenia symptomatology, participants are getting ready when legalization comes their way.

With the many concerns, I realized while Yankton, South Dakota is a far cry from the Malibu beaches, the heat of the desert  (Indian Wells) or the cool breezes of Marin County, we are all the same when it comes to substance misuse. There’s not a mother who does not want to hear I love you from their child and there is not a parent who does not want to die before their child.

So it was an honor to travel the corn fields to Yankton to meet hard-working women and men, the leaders in South Dakota, and to learn what they are doing for prevention and treatment and to once again realize we are all in this together.

Thank you, Yankton Mental Health for forging a new friendship. I rejoice in the knowledge that we have a new connection. We can share ideas, strategies and solutions. While we may live in different cities, have different animals, different concerns, our quest for creating a world that fosters health and wellness binds us.

Hat’s off to Paradigm Treatment Centers and Yankton Mental Health for having the courage and foresight to bring us together.


* Article originally published on Thrive