- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2020

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota officials are trying to get suicide prevention programs into communities across the state following an increase in suicides in recent years.

Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration detailed plans on Thursday to make suicide prevention part of its agriculture, tribal relations, and school programs over the next five years with a focus on rural areas. The state has recorded a 40% rise in suicides over the last decade.

The state has the sixth-highest rate of suicide in the nation, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. State Epidemiologist Josh Clayton said some of the highest rates are in Native American communities.

Noem directed the Department of Health to develop the first suicide prevention plan since 2013.

“Many communities want to do something, they just don’t know where to start,” said Laurie Gill, secretary of the Department of Social Services.

Gill said the state will offer free mental health first aid training to teach people how to respond when someone shows signs of mental illness or substance abuse. The state also plans to have suicide prevention programs in schools that teach students how to deal with difficult issues such as bullying, bad grades or family hardships.

Noem proposed an extra $210,000 for the program next year.

The state will establish a website with suicide prevention resources designed specifically for teens, veterans and Native Americans. It will also have current data on suicides to help social workers develop prevention strategies.

Gill said people in small towns sometimes face stigma about seeking help, but the plan is to make mental health a part of regular conversations. A hotline for farmers and ranchers in mental distress received hundreds of calls last year.

Legislators this year are also trying to make mental health help accessible through video calls with counselors.

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