Month: October 2022

What we learned from the #30Days30Stories project in 2022 

Thirty storytellers shared their stories of struggles with mental health and how they are finding resilience as part of Lost&Found’s 30 Days, 30 Stories project, which was part of National Suicide Prevention Month in September. Here, we reflect on what we learned from the project.


1. Finding storytellers was easier than it was in our first year, but challenges remain.

  • From staff members and partners in the mental health profession, we were able to come up with a list of more than 50 names of potential storytellers. “People are waiting to tell their stories; we just have to ask them to do so,” said L&F Community Engagement Manager Joel Kaskinen. “In our second year of this campaign, I found it easier to find people to share their stories, which tells me our communities are more open to sharing and the stigma around mental illness and suicide is decreasing.”
  • While getting stories, photos, and videos from about 20 storytellers from our list of potential storytellers was fairly straightforward, finding the last 10 was more difficult. Some potential storytellers didn’t feel it was the right time to tell their stories. Five people submitted stories, but we were unable to follow up to schedule photos with them. “Recruiting seemed rushed at the end,” said Prevention Programming Specialist Melissa Renes. “I would suggest offering the opportunity year-round and making it more normalized to share instead of requesting stories later in the year.”


2. We made improvements in recruiting stories that represent the diversity in our communities.

“I think the attempt to find diverse stories helped show that we were inclusive, and that mental health does not discriminate,” Renes said. “It put faces to the work we are doing.”

  • One significant improvement was telling more stories from the LGBTQIA2S+ community. More than 30 percent of storytellers indicated they are something other than heterosexual (including “prefer not to disclose”). This is important, because surveys (such as this one from the Trevor Project) indicate that LGBTQIA2S+ individuals are at higher risk for suicide. Telling these stories empowers the storytellers and helps to foster understanding empathy and understanding in the rest of society.
  • Our storyteller demographics in terms of race were not yet representative of the state as a whole or of the demographics of suicide in South Dakota. Native Americans make up 8.5 percent of South Dakota residents, and 20 percent of suicides in South Dakota (2012-21) were of Native Americans; just 1, or 3 percent, of our storytellers was Native. We had stories from three additional Native Americans but were unable to connect with them for photos and videos, which suggests we need to work on our process to accommodate people who might have difficulty traveling or taking off from work to meet us for a photo shoot. We hope to be able to connect with some or all of those storytellers for next year’s project.
  • We didn’t have as many stories as we’d hoped from people in our target age group. Sixty percent were in the target age group of 10-34. Forty percent of our storytellers were 35 to 54. We definitely value stories of resilience from people of any age, but it would be nice to have more stories from people who are in our target demographic.
  • While we improved in our gender balance from last year, 70 percent of our storytellers were women. “Young women are the most willing to share their stories,” Kaskinen said. “Women aged 10-34 was also the demographic that we reached most through social media.” We will continue to work to break through the limiting “tough guy” stereotype that men can’t talk about their mental health.


3. Storytellers gave a wide variety of resources that helped them find resilience.

“The resources showcased emphasized that when looking at recovery and maintaining positive mental health, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Renes said. The categories of resources suggested were professional mental health care (31 percent), family and friends (20 percent), other strategies (20 percent), support groups (14 percent), educational resources (10 percent) and crisis resources (4 percent). (Most storytellers cited more than one resource.)

  • Storytellers cited professional mental health care (in a variety of forms) most often when they listed resources that had helped them. While it’s wonderful that people have found help through professional services, this makes it that much more important to try to get more people into the mental health profession. There are not enough people to meet the need currently.


4. Storytellers shared a message of hope: It is possible to improve mental health.

  • The path from a dark place to a better place varies greatly from person to person, but it often starts with communication. This communication can come from person struggling: Speaking up about what is going on with them, connecting with a resource, or asking for help. But storytellers often welcomed the care of a friend or family member to start the conversation, and they wished more people had voiced their care and concern. “A theme I noticed throughout stories was that people wished more had talked to them, or they would have liked to know more resources were there,” Renes said.


The project had an impressive 183,455 impressions across all media! Here are some additional statistics on the reach of the project through the web, social media, and the Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast:


This image lists website, social media, and podcast statistics for the 30 Days, 30 Stories campaign, including for the website, podcasts, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. The most impressive stat is total impressions across all media: 183,455.


Data shows students are very satisfied with Peer2Peer, Advocates programs

Data gathered at the end of the spring 2022 semester show that students said they gained skills and were satisfied with Lost&Found’s Peer2Peer and Advocates programs.

“All the great feedback we got about the session topics was wonderful,” said Melissa Renes, Senior Prevention Specialist, who coordinates the Advocates program. “It was reassuring to hear that we were fulfilling the expectations students had and they were learning more than when they started.”

One of the positive outcomes Renes noted was the creation of a safe space to discuss difficult topics.

“Talking about mental health can be difficult, especially to ask questions that may have been stifled in the past,” she said. “Students are eager and wanting to discuss these topics, so creating the safe space for students to talk openly about their questions and concerns, and to learn knowledge, was important, and we achieved that.”

Another success was the way students completed advocacy projects and the end of the program. “The students that completed advocacy projects did so eagerly, thoughtfully and really expanded their knowledge and skills in the projects they chose.  Some took on quite a big project and completed it wonderfully,” Renes said.

Renes hopes these programs can be expanded to other campuses, and that more students will sign up on both current and new campuses. “We have some great Advocates who are educating their fellow students about how great the program is, so using their testimonial is better than any pamphlet.”

See the data below, or click on the images at right to open downloadable PDFs.


Lost&Found Peer2Peer Program 2021-22 Data

South Dakota State University & University of South Dakota

The program brought together student mentors, who got guided practice helping others, with mentees, who are students who need a little support navigating college life. Mentor pairs met two times a month, a minimum of eight times over the course of a semester.

25 mentor pairs participated during the 2021-22 school year.


An image showing student evaluation of program. On aspects of friendliness, knowledge, openness, and flexibility, students were very satisfied.

What were some important things you learned from your time as a mentee? (selected responses)

  • Getting more confident about myself 
  • Ways to make the most with my time, and to not blame myself when things go wrong.
  • Starting to think that I could open up more and trust people but it is ok that I don’t fully

What have you enjoyed most about the program? (selected responses)

  • Their flexibility where we can still be part of the program while doing our personal stuff. I have improved a lot in term communicating with others and dealing with unusual situations. 
  • The advice from my mentor helped me a lot.
  • I have enjoyed having someone who is older and more experienced on campus help me out because I know that at one point in time they were just like me. 
  • I enjoyed having a person to vent to, that’s been nice. 
  • Having someone to talk to that is around the same age as me and has more open times to meet and talk.


Student evaluation of program data from mentors. On aspects of friendliness, knowledge, openness, flexibility, and listening skills, students were very satisfied.

What were some important things you learned from your time as a mentor? (selected responses)

  • How impactful an hour a week can be on a person. 
  • I think I just learned more about my mindset and how I myself reflect on my life experiences. It’s beneficial for me to have this reflection time and think about how far I’ve come, too! 
  • I feel I learned how to problem solve and think on my feet and evaluate sources for useful solutions and advice.
  • Be open to different forms of communication. Not everyone has the same experiences throughout college.

Any additional comments? (selected responses)

  • I loved seeing the growth and progress (mentee’s name) has made throughout the semester. 
  • I enjoyed my time in the program, and I’m thankful to have been a part of such cool change!
  • I was so grateful to be a part of this program and am looking forward to doing it again next semester! 


Lost&Found Advocates Program 2021-22 Data

Dakota Wesleyan University, University of South Dakota, & Carlson School of Management (University of Minnesota)

The program included 5 mental health training sessions + an advocacy project, if a student chose to do one.

36 students participated in the 2021-22 school year (14 from DWU, nine from USD, and nine from Carlson).

17 students attended all five sessions (five more attended four sessions).

17 students completed advocacy projects (5K, NAMI Night, discussion roundtable, Greek Life event, presentations, art installation).

Student self-evaluation table. Students said they increased on their knowledge of mental health from 6.09 to 8.38 and in their confidence on their ability to advocate for mental health issues from 6.91 to 8.54.


Lake Area Technical College & Dakota Wesleyan University’s Learn & Earn Program

The program at LATC included 3 mental health training sessions facilitated in person in a seminar format. The program for DWU’s Learn & Earn students was 5 mental health training sessions facilitated virtually. 

30 LATC students participated in the 2021-22 school year.

9 DWU Learn & Earn students participated in the 2021-22 school year.

Student self-evaluation data. Students said they increased in their knowledge of mental health from 7.1 to 8.66 as a result of the program. (on a scale of 1-10)

What did you like about the program? (selected responses)

  • Understanding difficult issues (i.e. suicide, depression, etc.) and using that information to help people in close proximity.
  • I really enjoyed the ability to talk to people who knew more about this topic than I did.
  • I enjoyed all of the statistics and resources that were shared!
  • That they talked to us openly and told us not to be afraid to talk to someone we trust.
  • I enjoyed the variety of topics that were covered and how it all tied back to mental health. The information provided portrayed how complex mental health and suicide prevention is. 
  • I liked how open it was and how comfortable it was. 
  • I liked that I was able to meet new people and expose myself to new opportunities on campus. 
  • Having you guys get us engaged 
  • Going into relationships
  • Learning more about boundaries and being more self aware
  • It felt like a safe space to talk about your experience and connect it to the curriculum and learn to help others and speak on hard issues. 
  • Learning more about just taking care of yourself 
  • All the recommendations and the reassurance that we have help 
  • It talked about topics that are important to everybody.