South Dakota seeing an increase in suicide rates

South Dakota has seen a significant increase in suicides in 2020 and Pennington County is no exception.
(Miranda O'Bryan)
Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 5:19 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - South Dakota has seen a significant increase in suicides in 2020 and Pennington County is no exception.

From January to May, 59 people in South Dakota have died by suicide, according to the department of health. A number doubled from the first three months of 2020 and almost 20 more than the same time frame of 2019.

In Pennington County, the numbers look the same with 34 deaths by suicide recorded so far compared to 21 in all of last year.

So why the increase?

“So we are seeing people that are dealing with financial insecurity, food insecurity, no place to go, their outlets are gone, their happy places, their hobbies have disappeared,” said Katherine Sullivan, director of Behavioral Health Services for Monument Health. ”So there was a lot of misinformation so a lot of people were afraid and they didn’t want to come in to seek treatment that they needed so it’s almost like our community stayed at home trying to stay healthy and let other illnesses get more severe.”

Sullivan said mental illness has increased across the board including anxiety, depression, and suicide.

And it’s afflicting everyone.

“It’s quite spread out,” continued Sullivan. “And it’s not just the older teens and younger 20′s that we used to see, now we’re seeing a higher increase in 30′s to 40′s.”

“Suicide does not discriminate, it crosses all barriers and boundaries,” said Bridget Swier, director of communications and outreach for Front Porch Coalition. “Every race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, income level. So really anyone and everyone is at risk .”

The Front Porch Coalition offers support to families affected by suicide and works hand in hand with law enforcement but Swier said an open conversation can do a lot.

“There’s a myth that if we talk about suicide and we talk about mental health, that we’re going to perpetuate suicide and that’s actually a myth,” continued Swier. “Opening the door and having a conversation about it and letting it be part of our lives and our media and in the community, really actually does the opposite. it allows for those that are struggling to know that this is a safe community.”

“Whether it be the emergency department or the crisis care center or accessing the suicide hotlines, the suicide text line,” said Sullivan. “There’s always somebody available that can help and there’s always somebody here that can listen.”

If 2021 continues on this path, the state could see a record 236 suicides, a 27% increase in deaths compared to 2020, when there were 186 suicide deaths, and a 70% jump over 2010, when 139 people died by suicide.

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