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437-mile prevention run across South Dakota kicks off amid surging suicide numbers in Sioux Falls
Avera program highlights connection between physical and mental wellbeing
Deaths by suicide are spiking in Sioux Falls.
The number of people who have taken their own lives in South Dakota's largest city this year has already surpassed yearly totals for the three prior years, according to the Sioux Falls Police Department.
The 26 suicides reported through August already exceed the 22 total reported last year. And through August of 2020 and 2021, there were 18 suicides reported.
That trend, in part, is a driving force behind what's being called The 437 Project, an Avera Health-sponsored fundraiser that aims to highlight the connection between physical and mental wellness, which project organizers say is often overlooked when looking at improving mental health in the community.
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"It's the number one thing that is killing our young people, so we've got to make sure we're getting young people the help and resources they need," said Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken, one of 12 runners on a team that will traverse the length of South Dakota — 437 miles — over a three-day period.
But it's not just a Sioux Falls problem, or a young people problem, TenHaken noted.
Statewide, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all age categories, and compared to other states, South Dakota has the seventh-highest rate of suicide in the country.
And with most of the state being rural in nature, those statistics indicate suicide is not simply an urban problem, TenHaken said.
"It's as much a rural topic as it is an urban topic," he said. "So the fact that we go border to border across the state is because it is a statewide issue."
The initiative — in its second year — seeks to raise funds for The Helpline Center, South Dakota's only accredited suicide crisis center. Last year, the 437 Project's statewide run raised more than $120,000 for the center, the largest single fundraising effort the organization has ever been the beneficiary of.
Other runners on the team include business and community leaders like Micah Aberson of Cambria, Avera nurse Carter Gronseth, Orthopedic Institute's Erica Knip, Family Services therapist Benson Lagat, Dobesh Chiropractic's Lisa Larson, Kelly Marshall with Risk Administration Services, ChiroSport founder Ross McDaniel, Leadership South Dakota Director John Meyer, The Helpline Center's Alex Pool, and Marsh McLennan Agency consultant Rochelle Sweetman.
The runners are trading off running different legs of the route, which began at the Wyoming border Thursday morning at 6 a.m. mountain time. They're expected to arrive in Sioux Falls Sunday, with the run concluding at Levitt at the Falls in the early afternoon.
To donate or learn more about the 437 Project, click this link.