Skip to Content
South Dakota:
Under God, the People Rule

Addressing the Stigma Around Mental Health and Preventing Suicide

In South Dakota, about 30,000 adults and 9,000 kids live with serious mental health conditions. During the pandemic, I issued an executive order that permitted enhanced flexibilities in delivering treatment services via telehealth, including the use of audio-only services. These flexibilities increased access to behavioral health services for individuals who did not have access to face-to-face technology, such as a smart phone, tablet, computer, or WIFI/internet access. Now more than ever, it is critical for South Dakotans to have access to behavioral health services, and telehealth is a solution to ensure access to those treatment services. My team is working to make these changes permanent.

As I travel the state, I repeatedly hear from folks that we need more mental health services in our schools. In 2020, I worked with the legislature to expand the number of Systems of Care Coordinators. These professionals work with our school systems to identify youth at risk for mental health crises 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, expanding on the success we have seen with Pennington County's mental health court. These courts focus on clients with serious mental health needs to stabilize them through both treatment and medication so they can exit the justice system and contribute to their communities in meaningful ways. So far, almost 40 individuals have participated in the Pennington County and Minnehaha County mental health courts.

From 1999 to 2018, South Dakota's suicide rates rose by nearly 40 percent. In 2019, 185 South Dakotans died by suicide, making it the ninth 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 and 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, including in our reservations. My team has been reaching out to community members, faith leaders, tribal communities, and other organizations to fight the issue head-on. We're committed to shining a light on this problem.

Too often, there is a stigma surrounding mental health. In South Dakota we pride ourselves on being strong and handling what comes at us but sometimes even the strong need help. 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. Mental health support is available as is funding for treatment. Getting the help we need to stay strong for our families and our future should be our priority. Visit here to find a provider near you or visit the national Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

Support and help is also available 24/7 through 605 Strong; just a phone call (211), website visit (, or text away (text ‘605Strong’ to 898211).