A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard
Suicide is a growing problem in South Dakota. Last year we had the highest number of suicides on record. It was the ninth leading cause of death and the second leading cause of death for individuals age 10 to 34.
Around 5 percent of the population experiences thoughts of suicide each year. Even more alarming, a 2015 survey of South Dakota found that those thoughts are more prevalent for high schoolers, with 1 in 6 students having suicidal thoughts or tendencies. A recent Center for Disease Control report found over half of the individuals who died by suicide did not have any known mental health issues. Although depression and mental illness can be the underlying cause, relationship issues or other obstacles in life may lead someone to consider suicide.
One of the ways to prevent suicide is to talk about it. We can empower those who struggle by letting them know they’re not alone. Many people experience thoughts of despair, and there is help out there.
At the state level, we are talking about it as much as we can. Through a campaign called BeThe1SD, we are spreading the word about warning signs and where to find help. We have a 24/7 Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), Community Mental Health Centers that offer mental health services and supports across the state, and a whole host of resources at sdsuicideprevention.org. On the website you can find toolkits for local groups and information about suicide and support groups for survivors and family members who have lost loved ones.
I’m encouraging South Dakotans to talk about suicide as well. I have challenged community groups to hold events during the month of September, which is Suicide Prevention Month. Reaching out to someone can make all the difference, but how do we start the conversation? How do we identify the warning signs? When should we ask, “Are you okay?” I hope schools, churches, clubs, families and circles of friends throughout our state will engage in the fight to save lives by leading these kinds of discussions.
A few weeks ago, five South Dakota Department of Transportation employees made headlines as they went above and beyond their duties. Gary, Adam, Chris, Curt and Jordan were north of Sioux Falls when they got word of a young man headed toward the Marion Road overpass on I-90. The young man was in despair and had the intention of taking his own life. When he climbed onto the overpass, the five men from DOT rushed to him. They stopped traffic, broke the young man’s fall and prevented him from running into traffic.
Their actions saved this young man’s life.