Navigating Mental Health: How Lost&Found Supports Suicide Loss Survivors

Blog post image banner with two line drawings representing mental health, the Sioux Empire United Way logo, and text that reads "Navigating Mental Health: Survivors Joining for Hope by Lost&Found"

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Sioux Empire United Way is excited to introduce a new series for the month of May! Through our Navigating Mental Health features, we hope to highlight the impactful work of our partner agencies actively supporting and promoting mental health services and resources throughout the Sioux Empire!

In this installment, we will be spotlighting Survivors Joining for Hope by Lost&Found. A direct service program providing financial support and resources to individuals and families who have lost a loved one to suicide. And we're grateful to have had the chance to chat with their Executive Director and CEO, Erik Muckey.

Join us as we explore their program's impact, the changing needs of the community, and their hopes for the future of mental health in the Sioux Empire!


Lost&Found Logo


Q&A with Lost&Found

How does your Survivors Joining for Hope program actively support the mental health needs within the Sioux Empire community? 

The Survivors Joining for Hope (SJ4H) program supports those who have recently lost a loved one to suicide with financial assistance, resource referrals and peer emotional support. The data tells us that this group, referred to as suicide loss survivors, are much more at risk for suicide themselves after experiencing a loss. This program provides a critical intervention in a time of need to stabilize the family financially and emotionally. Often, we are working alongside families as they are planning and attending their loved one’s funeral. We are assisting them in handling the business and emotional pieces of their loss. We continue to walk the journey with them as they navigate other resource needs and move through their grief. Resources and support for survivors is imperative to their mental health when experiencing such high levels of grief.


What demographics would you say this program typically serves? 

Our program has been primarily serving low to moderate income families who have lost an adult white male to suicide. We support the entire family unit but are often working with parents, often more closely with mothers, and adult children. While the program is supported by the SEUW it is a statewide program also supported by other communities. We have served families across the entire state, urban and rural communities, as well as native families.


Have you seen any significant change in your program or the needs of the community since the pandemic? 

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a problem long impacting Sioux Falls and South Dakota—suicide. Suicide death has been on a steady rise locally and nationally since 2012, reaching a record high of 202 deaths statewide in 2022 and becoming the leading cause of death for South Dakotans under the age of 29 during the pandemic.

The needs for support of programs like Survivors Joining for Hope have only grown because of that, dramatically increasing the demand for loss survivors service and services like our Peer2Peer Mentorship program, which provides non-clinical peer support for college-aged students around the state.

One positive thing? The pandemic increased knowledge and awareness of the issue of suicide and the need for programs to increase mental wellbeing. The Sioux Falls community—and the state of South Dakota—are recognizing that the need for resources is not only increasing, but is unlikely to go away, and that is good news for our community.


What is one thing you wish people were more aware of when it comes to mental health? 

Every person has a responsibility to learn and support each other when it comes to mental health. Lost&Found focuses its efforts on increasing resilience (i.e., the life skills that offer protective factors against suicide risk) because we know that any person of any age can learn how to live a healthy life. When we seek training, education, and simple opportunities to build our skills to improve our health, we’re making our mark on mental health in our community. That’s how we can all make a difference.


A group photo of five diverse individuals in a circle supporting one another.


What would you like to share about the stigma behind receiving mental health services? 

The language we use matters when we talk about mental health and suicide, because the words we choose are the driving force behind stigma placed on people experiencing a mental health condition or suicide loss.

Using person-first language helps by acknowledging that a person is a human, not just their mental health condition (saying “I was diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of “I’m schizophrenic). We can also support suicide loss survivors—who are experiencing unimaginable, complicated grief—by not equating suicide to criminal activity (saying “my loved one died by suicide” rather than “my loved one committed suicide”).

The goal of using helpful language isn’t to make mental health conditions or suicide “cool.” It’s meant to create supportive environments and understanding for people experiencing a condition or suicide ideation, so they are more likely to seek help. Talking about mental health and asking someone if they’re considering suicide isn’t planting a seed in their mind but opening trusted conversation to help them find the support they need.

That’s why talking about mental health—using helpful language—saves lives.


What do you hope the future of mental health looks like in the Sioux Empire? 

Our hope is that mental health is fully staffed, funded, supported, and collaborating in Sioux Falls. We have tremendous organizations doing incredible work to prevent suicide, intervene in suicide crisis, and support suicide loss survivors. The challenges that we face today largely are a result of workforce shortages, especially for mental health professionals serving low-to-moderate income families and immigrant and refugee communities.

We hope for a future that is built on collaboration, comprehensive support for families, and community investments from all sectors to meet a challenge that isn’t going away anytime soon.


What are key mental health resources & services that you recommend to the individuals you serve? 

If you’re looking to get a better understanding of how to talk about mental health or speak with someone experiencing suicide ideation, we always start by saying “Let’s Talk About Mental Health.” You can download our Let’s Talk About Mental Health Guide or our Let’s Talk About Grief Guide on our website here.

We frequently encourage community members to get free training. Lost&Found offers Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) suicide gatekeeper training, as well as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Additional training offerings are available here through the South Dakota Suicide Prevention website.

We also recommend knowing where you can start to get access to help. Our partners at the Helpline Center can connect folks with mental health resources in their community by calling 211 or using the Helpline Center’s website, and if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, you can call or text 988 at anytime and receive help.

If you have recently experienced a suicide loss—contact Lost&Found to access the Survivors Joining for Hope (SJ4H) program. We’re ready to support you, make sure you are cared for in a tremendous time of need, and connect you with community resources.


What final words do you have for our readers? 

There is a thin line between struggle and success, lost and found. The great thing about resilience is that we can all learn it and build up our protective factors against suicide. It isn’t inflexible or rigid; it’s learning how to adapt and grow in our lives.

When we seek to grow and build our confidence in understanding mental health and suicide risk, we make ourselves—and our community—stronger. Together, we can do more to prevent suicide and give hope to those who are struggling.


Interested in learning more about our funded agencies & the work they're doing across the Sioux Empire, click here!