Hope has power – it drives us to achieve incredible things that we never thought possible or endure difficulties that previous seemed insurmountable. Unfortunately, for the same reasons, hopelessness can hold tremendous power over a person’s life, too. Too often, that loss of hope leads to suicide, a suicide that is entirely preventable. Suicide is a growing public health issue in our country and in South Dakota, and it affects each of our lives in some way.
I want everyone who has struggled with hopelessness or thoughts of suicide to have access to the help and resources they need. We can restore hope – we just need to start the conversation. Together, we can restore hope to the hopeless, and that’s exactly what I have tasked state government to help me do.
In South Dakota, when we truly care about an issue or problem, we work together to take action. That’s what we did in the summer of 2019 when I tasked five state agencies to develop a comprehensive statewide plan to prevent suicide. Together, the departments of Health, Social Services, Education, Tribal Relations, and Agriculture & Natural Resources, as well as the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board have committed to spotlighting this issue to reduce suicides in South Dakota. This group is working hard to get people talking more about suicide and how to prevent it.
Last summer, a data-to-action group from these agencies began meeting to identify counties experiencing high rates of suicide. The group has been proactively reaching out to communities with these high rates and offering assistance in areas like healthcare, behavioral health, school counseling, and community supports.
To date, eight high risk counties have been identified through this process, and we’ve taken action to restore hope. Multiple agencies have worked together to provide training and awareness resources to those counties, including social media messaging and print materials to help jumpstart the conversation about suicide prevention.
With this added support and collaboration, we are hoping to see suicide rates in these high-risk counties turn around. But our work isn’t done, and we need your help. Suicide is not an easy topic to discuss, but we cannot be afraid to talk about it.
We will be hosting the “Start the Conversation” statewide suicide prevention conference on August 11-12 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. Sometimes people just need the right tools to start the conversation. The conference will be an opportunity for individuals to access training and resources to help prevent suicide in South Dakota. Key speakers and sessions will focus on prevention strategies for veterans, ag producers, youth, tribal communities, and the general population. Training opportunities are also available, and you can attend the conference at no cost.
Suicide prevention is everyone’s concern. Take time to check in with your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to see how they are doing. Learn the risk factors and watch for the warning signs. Find the words and offer help. You may help save a life.
You are not alone in helping someone. If you need help with thoughts of suicide, please call 988. Help is available 24/7. Or, visit SDSuicidePrevention.org or BeThe1SD.com for numerous resources for those needing help for themselves or others.