People don’t like talking about tough things — things that make us uncomfortable or sad. Things that make us feel small. Things that are heartbreaking.

Suicide is one of those things. Suicide means a family learning to live without a mom, dad, brother, or sister. A coworker who doesn’t return to work on Monday. An empty chair at a graduation ceremony.

Suicide isn’t something we like to talk about, but in too many South Dakota families, schools, and communities, suicide has become an all too familiar topic.

From 1999 to 2018, South Dakota’s suicide rates rose by nearly 40 percent. Just last year, 168 South Dakotans died by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death in our state. It’s especially common among young people.

Suicide is a complicated problem and is rarely caused by a single factor. In fact, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control Prevention said that more than 50 percent of people who die by suicide are not known to have a mental health condition. Things like relationships, substance abuse, health, job trouble, money, or legal difficulties can all contribute to a heavy burden of stress or a lack of hope.

Despite knowing how far reaching suicide is, we too often lean heavily on narrow stereotypes to determine the type of people most likely to be impacted. It’s important to remember that suicidal thoughts can afflict anyone, making it absolutely critical to watch out for the people in your life. Characteristics like increased alcohol and drug use; talking, writing, or thinking about death; withdrawal from family and friends; and impulsive or reckless behavior can all be warning signs to look out for.

The State is taking action to make a difference in this area, too. I’ve mobilized my Departments of Health, Social Services, Education, Agriculture, and Tribal Relations to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent suicide in South Dakota. September is Suicide Prevention Month and over the next few weeks we’ll be reaching out to community members, faith leaders, and other organizations for their input as we build a plan that empowers communities to fight the issue head-on. We’re committed to shining a light on this problem.

If someone you know is struggling, act now. If it’s an emergency, dial 911 immediately. If not, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is open around the clock for help and the Avera Farmer Stress hotline (1-800-691-4336) is available, too. You can also contact any medical provider or a Community Mental Health Center or tribal mental health provider. Additional information, resources, and support are available on our website,

Don’t wait to call. Don’t wait to act. You don’t have to go through this alone. There is hope.

(1) comment


1)Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. 2)The U.S. gun suicide rate is 10 times that of other high-income countries. 3)Access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide by three times. 3)Gun suicides are concentrated in states with high rates of gun ownership. 4)Most people who attempt suicide do not die—unless they use a gun. Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, less than five percent will result in death. 5)But for gun suicides, those statistics are flipped: approximately 85 percent of gun suicide attempts end in death. 6)

White men represent 74 percent of firearm suicide victims in America.

Source: 1)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017. 2)Grinshteyn E, Hemenway D. Violent death rates in the US compared to those of the other high-income countries, 2015. Preventive Medicine. 2019; 123: 20-26. 3)Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014; 160(2): 101-110.

Opoliner A, Azrael D, Barber C, Fitzmaurice G, Miller M. Explaining geographic patterns of suicide in the U.S.: The role of firearms and antidepressants. Injury Epidemiology. 2014; 1(1): 6. 4)Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: The importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408. 5)Ibid. 6)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017. White men defined as non-Hispanic white.

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