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South Dakota:
Under God, the People Rule

Addressing the Stigma Around Mental Health and Preventing Suicide

In South Dakota today, about 30,000 adults and 9,000 kids live with serious mental health conditions. With nearly every family and every community impacted, it’s overloaded the system. As a result, too many are falling through the cracks.

Too often, there is a stigma surrounding mental health. While this is true across the board, it’s especially true when we talk about mental health among agriculture producers.

As a lifelong farmer and rancher, I understand what it's like to look over flooded fields and know that there's nothing you can do. I know what it's like to lose livestock and know that one storm can wipe out thousands of dollars of crops. I also understand the added pressure of trying to keep the family farm viable, feeling as though your entire family's legacy is riding on your shoulders.

And ag producers aren't the only people who face mental health challenges every day.

As I travel the state, I repeatedly hear from folks that we need more mental health services in our schools. This year, I worked with the legislature to expand the number of System Care Coordinators. These professionals will work with our school systems to identify youth at risk for mental health crisis and connect families to needed services to prevent more costly interventions in the future. I've also worked with the Chief Justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court to provide funding for a mental health court for Minnehaha County. This court will focus on clients with mental health needs to stabilize them with both treatment and medication so they can exit the justice system and contribute to their communities in meaningful ways.

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.

The State is taking action to make a difference in this area, too. I've mobilized my state agencies to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent suicide in South Dakota. My team will be reaching out to community members, faith leaders, and other organizations to fight the issue head-on. We're committed to shining a light on this problem. To learn more or to become involved, please visit https://sdsuicideprevention.org/. We all need to be the one to get involved and make a difference.

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