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The seven-letter word: DWU professor named psychological autopsy investigator, discusses suicide prevention

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

It’s the seven-letter word that gets misunderstood, stereotyped and oftentimes barely spoken above a whisper.




The very mention of the word, its sight in print, or memory of someone who died, evokes emotional responses ranging from sadness to pity to fear to grief and a myriad of others.


Dr. Anne Kelly, professor of psychology at Dakota Wesleyan University, is conducting research on suicide with the aim of improving prevention efforts, and she hopes to one day destigmatize suicide, as well as its contributing causes.


Kelly is a psychological autopsy investigator, certified through the American Association of Suicidology in Washington, D.C. Kelly’s certification was funded by the Mitchell Area Suicide Prevention Taskforce and DWU professional development. The A.A.S. reports that Kelly is the only psychological autopsy investigator certified with them in South Dakota; there are a total of 15 in the U.S. and one in South Korea, making that 16 worldwide – though there are other certification programs.


“The job of a psychological autopsy investigator is to understand the mental state of the victim at the time of the attempt and identify long-term and short-term factors leading up to the attempt, to the extent that either is possible. We also work to clarify the motive of death in cases where the cause isn't clear,” Kelly said. “Was it natural causes, an accident, suicide or homicide? Sometimes the cause is ambiguous. We would call that an equivocal death. Psychological autopsy investigators clarify mode, too – how they did it – and work with law enforcement pretty regularly.


“Sometimes it’s a matter of proving that a suspected suicide wasn’t a suicide, and we do that by looking at behavior, medical records – police reports, toxicology screens – and investigating everything we have available to us up to the point of death.”


A psychological autopsy investigator can be brought into a case by law enforcement or by a family member.


My interest in researching suicide victims is to find psychological indicators that could help identify potential victims. If we know more about what to look for, then we can offer help,” Kelly said. “The only way to know more about who might consider suicide is by studying those who have already completed it, which is where my research begins.


“I want to be clear that I do not judge or disparage the victim or the family – I see and treat the victims like the human beings they are,” she added. “Through this tragedy, we might find answers. Families and friends of suicide victims are critical to this work. In fact, we very much depend on their help to better understand what is happening at the time of a suicide so that we can strengthen prevention and intervention efforts. Suicide is considered the most preventable public health problem. When families, psychological autopsy investigators, counselors, law enforcement, and others in our community work together, we really are in a great position to do something about suicide.”


Suicide is a result of mental illness, but having mental illness does not mean a person will even contemplate suicide in his or her lifetime. Some people show signs of depression or anger or self-loathing and never consider it, Kelly points out.


“Some suicide victims are the outward picture of mental health,” she said.


Those inconsistencies are what make suicide so difficult to understand, and many who have lost someone to suicide seek to understand motive. Answers are part of the mourning process, but answers also aid in prevention.


“The research I do is about identifying groups most at risk and then identifying what those indicators are so we can look for them in individuals as well as other groups,” she said. “The goal is to create a community where we reduce risk factors.”


Considering risk factors

Self-medication is sometimes a sign that a chemical imbalance is in play.


“Self-medication with drugs or alcohol, or even eating disorders, are used to neutralize what you’re feeling, whether it’s starving yourself or over-eating,” Kelly said.


Certain populations are also shown to be more prone to panic disorders, such as veterans, female physicians and the aging. Risk factors are also dependent on geography.


“There is considerable evidence indicating that suicide rates are higher in rural areas, although some recent data indicate that urban and rural rates are similar,” she said. “Suicide risk goes up in rural areas for several reasons, including geographic isolation, economic problems, widespread use of firearms, alcoholism, stigmatization of mental illness, and access to mental health and health services.


“We think because we live in the country, we have this easy-going, stress-free life and we are so far away from crime-ridden cities – we’re safe here,” Kelly said. “The truth is, geographically-isolated areas are at higher risk because many people live miles away from the closest neighbor or hours away from the closest counselor. They feel what they’re feeling and they don’t always have easy access to a support group.”


According to the South Dakota Suicide Prevention website, which gained its information from the South Department of Health, the most recent report in 2011 states that 125 deaths were reported that year attributed to suicide. The site states that this ranks suicide as the ninth-leading cause of death in the state, the second-leading cause for residents ages 1-34 years old.


Looking for solutions

Solutions for rural areas like South Dakota are three-fold: destigmatize mental illness; educate people on what it is to live with mental illness, and provide greater access to mental health facilities – which many communities have tried, but it’s difficult because of lack of funding or personnel, Kelly said.


“And, you can do everything right and it can still happen,” she said. “This is why research is still ongoing.”


Kelly’s research is geared toward taking the stigma out of suicide, depression, mental illness, desperation, grief – especially the idea that “weak” people attempt suicide.


“American culture, especially – we have a tendency to believe we are independent and depression is something we can overcome, and have to overcome, on our own,” Kelly said. “It’s an organic problem, like the flu is organic, but you never criticize or think it’s frivolous for someone to go to the doctor for the flu. No one whispers, ‘Oh my gosh, did you hear she has the flu?’ We have to push past that stereotype, to educate, and create an environment where people aren’t afraid talk about it, to ask for help, to show that they need that help.”


When someone is diagnosed with depression or other mental illness, it’s always important to provide a strong support system – whether it’s driving the person to doctor’s appointments, taking part in group counseling, or maintaining a nonjudgmental attitude toward his or her struggle, she said.


“If you recognize signs in someone, then you are obligated to act,” Kelly said. “But ultimately, the responsibility for the action is on the person who commits it. All the conditions could be met or look like they are being met, the person could seem fine or was getting the right help, everything could seem completely on track, and then still that person attempts, and maybe completes, suicide. We can’t blame ourselves for the actions of others. ​But we can learn to recognize warning signs, and we can help.”


For anyone who might be interested in information concerning suicide prevention or counseling assistance, South Dakota suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255); help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is available to anyone and all calls are kept confidential. Websites to visit include: http://sdsuicideprevention.org/.

"We've got a lot of really great people, right here in Mitchell, including counselors, principals, physicians, nurses and pastors, who are working to prevent suicide, and who serve on the Mitchell Area Suicide Prevention Taskforce.”

The DWU campus counselor is available to all students, staff and faculty. Linda Cimpl's office hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Thursday, or by appointment. Email her a licimpl@dwu.edu or call her office at 995-2896. To set up an appointment with an outside agency please see or call Kris Ehlebracht, Student Life Assistant , 995-2667, or by email at krehlebr@dwu.eduEhlebracht will be happy to help you and will maintain confidentiality. More information about campus counseling can be found here.

DWU sets groundbreaking ceremony for new Sports and Wellness Complex

Monday, September 8, 2014

DWU will celebrate the groundbreaking of its $10 million Sports and Wellness Complex during a special ceremony at 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 18, at the site of the new building, on the south side of Norway Avenue, across from the football practice fields and L.B. Williams Elementary School.


Attendees may park along Norway Avenue, as well as in the parking lots near the McGovern Library and the Corrigan Health Sciences Center.  DWU will provide a shuttle service from the parking lots to the groundbreaking site beginning at 4:30 p.m.


The sports and wellness complex is the first of a three-part project that includes renovations to the Christen Family Athletic Center and an endowment for the new complex.


“Dakota Wesleyan would not be here without the support of our community,” said DWU President Amy Novak. “Our trustees led the way with their financial commitments to this project, and our faculty and staff have been generous as well.  We also have found partners in the Mitchell community and within our alumni base who have supported this project generously.”


DWU’s need for a larger facility is due to the growth of the campus and its athletic programs.


When Dakota Wesleyan was founded, there were no official collegiate sports, even football was a club sport. When the current athletic facility was built in 1985, the DWU programs were smaller. Now, a significant portion of the student population takes part in intercollegiate sports or intramurals, there are additional teams, including men’s and women’s soccer, and the general campus population has been unable to use the current space and equipment because of near round-the-clock use.


“This complex will accommodate all on our campus who are concerned with better health and wellness,”  said Novak.  “We also plan to welcome community members seeking high-quality wellness facilities.”


The Sports and Wellness Complex will be an 85,000-square-foot, one-story facility, including: a 200-meter running and walking indoor track, three indoor multipurpose sport courts, locker rooms, 4,000 square feet of wellness space dedicated to cardiovascular equipment, weights and fitness training, a wrestling room, classroom space for seminars and leadership training, and athletic training space.


The official name of the building, as well as donors, will be revealed at the groundbreaking ceremony. It will be located just south of the campus’s new science center – a four-story facility which opened last fall.


The university has experienced several years of record contributions resulting in new and renamed facilities, including Jackson Plaza (2007), the Donna Starr Christen College of Healthcare, Fitness and Sciences (2012), the Glenda K. Corrigan Health Sciences Center (2013), the Arlene Gates Department of Nursing (2013), and the Ron and Sheilah Gates Department of Music (2014).


DWU Opperman Lecturer to give ‘Lessons from the Slope’

Monday, September 8, 2014

Jon Kreamelmeyer’s passion for skiing took him from the slopes of Colorado to guiding a visually impaired skier who won a bronze medal in the Paralympics in Norway.


Kreamelmeyer, a 1970 alumnus of Dakota Wesleyan University, will return to his alma mater next week to give this year’s Opperman Lecture.


Kreamelmeyer’s lecture, “Skiing, Service and Success: Lessons from the Slope,” will be at 11 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 18, in the Sherman Center. This event is free and open to the public. The Opperman Lecture series began 18 years ago with an endowment by Dwight Opperman, who attended DWU in 1947-48. He funded the lecture to bring distinguished alumni back to DWU to share their experiences with students.


After graduation, Kreamelmeyer went into coaching, teaching and working with at-risk youth in Colorado’s Summit County High School, retiring in 1999.


Also in 1999, he took the job as the U.S. Ski Team’s disabled cross-country skiing head coach, after serving on staff since the early ’90s, serving as a guide for blind athletes.


He originally joined the U.S. Disabled Ski Team as a guide for Michele Drolet, the first American woman to earn a Paralympic cross-country ski medal (bronze, ’94 in Lillehammer, Norway).  As acting head coach at the 1998 Paralympics, he saw U.S. skiers collect two bronze medals.  At the 2000 World Championships, the team came home with a USA-record eight medals.  At Soldier Hollow in 2002, U.S. skiers earned five Paralympic medals, including the first relay medal for U.S. athletes.  The team earned three more podiums in Torino in 2006.  Kreamelmeyer shifted positions in 2009 to cross-country development coach in order to help produce future athletes for the sport.  He retired from the U.S. Ski Team in 2011 but continues to serve as a technical classifier for the International Paralympic Committee.


During his tenure with the U.S. Paralympic Team, he was selected as Coach of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2000, and in 2014 he was inducted into the Visa International Paralympic Hall of Fame during the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.


Presently, he continues to teach skiing and is a volunteer coach with the local youth ski club. Kreamelmeyer will receive this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award representing the College of Leadership and Public Service on Thursday night during the annual Legacy Banquet on campus.


Auditions set for DWU, Mitchell ACT Christmas musical, ‘Scrooge’

Monday, September 8, 2014

The DWU Department of Theatre, the Ron and Sheilah Gates Department of Music at DWU, and the Mitchell Area Community Theatre will combine forces this holiday season to bring “Scrooge, the Musical” to stage.


Auditions for the musical will be at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 22, and Tuesday, Sept. 23, at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre for the Performing Arts.


All those interested in auditioning should come prepared to sing at least 16 bars of a Broadway show tune; bring sheet music for the accompanist.


Production dates for “Scrooge,” will be 7:30 p.m., Dec. 4-6, and Dec. 11-13; and 2 p.m. on Dec. 7 and Dec. 14, at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre.


The cast calls for one lead actor and many supporting characters, singers and dancers. Rehearsals are created and based on cast availability.


For more information please contact Daniel L. Miller, director of theatre at Dakota Wesleyan, at daniel.miller@dwu.edu.


Forty-one organizations participate in Community Plunge

Friday, September 5, 2014

Forty-one local and area organizations came together Thursday for the annual Community Plunge at Dakota Wesleyan University in order to introduce themselves to the incoming freshmen.


The annual Community Plunge invites Mitchell area businesses, churches, nonprofits and organizations to campus every year to give them an opportunity to show DWU students what products and services are available, as well as volunteering and employment opportunities.


“This event began six years ago to help underclassmen feel more comfortable with their new community and work prospects, but now we are also seeing our upperclassmen coming back to the event,” said René Cardona, talent adviser for the Center for Talent Development at DWU. “We feel that there is a value added for our students and the participating organizations, which leads to a mutually beneficial situation.


This year, 18 businesses, three churches, 13 nonprofit organizations and seven student clubs set up booths for 216 students who registered at the door.


“DWU will continually seek to build our relationship with the surrounding community to foster a strong learning environment that exposes students to a wide array of experiences while helping to strengthen the Mitchell community,” Cardona said.

More photos are on the DWU Facebook page, click here.


Local couple make special gift to DWU’s music department

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dakota Wesleyan University’s music department has a new name, thanks to benefactors Ron and Sheilah Gates, of Mitchell.


The university recognized the Gateses for their generous donation toward the music program Thursday during Opening Convocation and announced the naming of the Ron and Sheilah Gates Department of Music.


“The generosity of Ron and Sheilah will allow DWU to strategically enhance the resources committed to music,” said DWU President Amy Novak. “We plan to hire another faculty member to support an instrumental music program. Additionally, the program will benefit from an endowment that will provide support for music at DWU for years to come.”


The local couple has been generous toward the college in numerous ways, including sponsorship of last year’s spring musical, “Les Miserablés.” The Gateses also made a donation to the Corrigan Health Sciences Center, naming the Arlene Gates Department of Nursing after Ron’s late wife.


“The generosity of Ron and Sheilah Gates has touched so many lives on this campus, and now we have this extraordinary opportunity to support our growing music program,” said Dr. Clinton Desmond, choral director for the Ron and Sheilah Gates Department of Music. “Their support over the years is really more than philanthropy, it’s friendship, and we’ve felt that keenly here at DWU.”


Sheilah has lived in the Midwest her entire life and made her home in Le Mars and Orange City, Iowa.  Her love of music and the arts can be traced back to her grandmother who played piano for the silent movie theatre, organ for the church and conducted church choirs.  Sheilah was drum majorette for her high school marching band and clarinetist for concert band as well as the community band, and she was also active in drama and theatre.  She attended business college and worked at various places through the years as an administrative assistant. While she was a stay-at-home mother, she was a future director for the Mary Kay organization.  Sheilah volunteers for her church, and enjoyed volunteering for the Christian Women’s Club and at her children’s schools when they were young. Sheilah and Ron were married in 2012. Sheilah’s son, Curtis and his wife, Mary Puetz, live in Sioux Center, and her daughter, Crisinda and husband, Randy Tackett, live in Kettering, Ohio.


Ron, a native of Sioux City, Iowa, is a Navy veteran. He has been a part of the Mitchell community more than 50 years.  In 1969, he and his late wife, Arlene, purchased the Mitchell Retirement Nursing Center and assumed ownership of the Firesteel Healthcare Center in 1984.  An industry leader, Ron has been vice president of the board of directors of the South Dakota Healthcare Association and a member of the South Dakota State Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators.  He is a member of the First United Methodist Church, where he has served on the Staff Parish Committee and has chaired the Administrative Board. He has also been involved in the Rotary Club and the Rotary Foundation and Exchange Program, and is a past member of the DWU Board of Trustees.  In 1990, Ron and Arlene Gates received the DWU Outstanding Citizens Award. Ron’s son, Ron Jr., and his wife, Rose, live in Mitchell; and his daughter, Laurie Robinson and husband, Mark, live in Colorado Springs, Colo.


The first performance of the Ron and Sheilah Gates Department of Music will be the Choral Hymn Festival on Oct. 5 at Mitchell First United Methodist Church. For a complete schedule, visit www.dwu.edu.


Labor Day hours at DWU

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dakota Wesleyan University offices will close Monday, Sept. 1, in observance of the Labor Day holiday and there will be no class.

The McGovern Library will also observe holiday hours this weekend. The library will be open Saturday, Aug. 30, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed on Sunday, Aug. 31; and open from 6 to 10 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 1.

Offices and the library return to regular hours on Tuesday. 


DWU’s homecoming theme announced, parade entries encouraged

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

This year’s Blue & White Days parade will be filled with togas, gladiators, laurel wreaths and chariots of fire.

Well, no actual fire, please.

Dakota Wesleyan University will celebrate its Blue & White Days Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 18-20, with the annual parade at 10 a.m., Saturday. The theme this year is “The Rise of the Roaring Empire,” and the DWU student life department is looking for willing participants to join in the fun.

To enter a float, vehicle or group to the Blue & White Days parade, please visit www.dwu.edu and click on the Blue & White Days banner. Registration links are listed within the schedule.

Interested parties may also contact Jeff Holstein, student activities coordinator, at jeholste@dwu.edu, or 995-2943.

Parade entrants are encouraged to embrace the Roman theme – which can be anything from togas to chariots to Julius Caesar to Roman gods.


DWU Annual Freshman Food Drive sets new all-time record

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The tallies came in Sunday, and the DWU Freshman Food Drive set a new record with 4,629 pounds of food donated by the Mitchell community.

This year’s class of freshmen, along with current DWU students, conducted the food drive from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24. Donations were brought to the Mitchell Food Pantry where DWU and food pantry volunteers sorted and shelved the food.

The previous record was in 2012 with 4,350 pounds of food collected.

“We’re so grateful to the Mitchell community for opening their hearts and cupboards to the Mitchell Food Pantry, and for giving our students this opportunity to provide a service to their community – something we encourage in and out of the classroom,” said the Rev. Eric Van Meter, DWU campus pastor. “I think a lot of us are humbled by Mitchell’s generosity.”

The summer months generally leave the Mitchell Food Pantry depleted. The pantry reported that through the months of May through July, it gave out 3,799 bags of groceries.

The Freshman Food Drive is a large component of the New Student Orientation weekend at Dakota Wesleyan and an activity that is structured to help new students acclimate to their new community, as well as the university’s motto of “Sacrifice or Service.”

The Mitchell Food Pantry is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday-Friday, and donations may be dropped off during that time or from 3 to 6 p.m. at the thrift store.

For those wishing to donate, but who might not be home during the DWU Freshman Food Drive, donations may be made at the Mitchell Food Pantry, located within the Mitchell Salvation Army on Sanborn Boulevard, during regular hours Monday through Friday. The Mitchell Food Pantry is open to clients from noon to 3 p.m., Monday-Friday.

More photos can be found on the DWU Facebook page: www.facebook.com/dwublue

Above, One of the boxes donated was too large for either scale, so a student held it and weighed himself. The box came in at 140 pounds!

DWU Freshman Food Drive set for Sunday

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Dakota Wesleyan University annual Freshman Food Drive is set for Sunday and students will go door-to-door asking for donations.


Every fall, freshmen and transfer students are encouraged to take part in orientation weekend, which is filled with activities to help new students acclimate to the campus, the community and meet new friends. One of those activities is the annual DWU Freshman Food Drive for the Mitchell Area Food Pantry. Freshmen and new students will canvass the city for donations. This year’s drive will be from noon to 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 24, and residents will know the students by their DWU orientation T-shirts.


“We want our students to be more than just classroom consumers,” said the Rev. Eric VanMeter, DWU’s campus minister. “The college experience is about growing as a person, and a big part of that is students learning to see the world around them. The food drive gets them out into the community right away, and hopefully helps them understand more about where they live while at DWU.”


Last year’s food drive brought in 4,230 pounds, and students are hoping to top that this year.


The summer months generally leave the Mitchell Food Pantry depleted. The pantry reported that through the months of May-July, it gave out 3,799 bags of groceries, and the pantry is currently in need of the following: canned tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, Hamburger Helper, canned tuna, beans of any kind, macaroni and cheese, ravioli, soup, peanut butter, pasta, boxed potatoes, snack items (cookies, Jell-O, cupcakes, cheese and crackers) and cereal.


For those wishing to donate, but who might not be home during the DWU Freshman Food Drive, donations may be made at the Mitchell Food Pantry, located within the Mitchell Salvation Army on Sanborn Boulevard, during regular hours Monday through Friday. The Mitchell Food Pantry is open to clients from noon to 3 p.m., Monday-Friday.

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Dakota Wesleyan University was named to the 2013 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. This designation is the highest honor a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement.
Dakota Wesleyan University is proudly affiliated with the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Members of any and all faiths are welcome and encouraged to experience an education based on learning, leadership, faith and service.
Dakota Wesleyan University has been honored as a College of Distinction through demonstration of excellence in these areas: engaged students, great teaching, vibrant communities and successful outcomes.
The Chronicle of Higher Education named Dakota Wesleyan University one of the “Great Colleges to Work For®” for 2014-2015. DWU won honors in three categories: facilities, workspace and security, and supervisor/department chair relationship.
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