PIERRE | Suicides rates set a record high during 2017 for South Dakota, state epidemiologist Josh Clayton told a panel of lawmakers Thursday.
Clayton didn’t give the number to the House Health and Human Services Committee, however. Final data were still pending.
He confirmed the 2017 total exceeded the 161 of 2016 and the record 173 set in 2015. “Suicide rates are increasing in South Dakota,” Clayton said.
He presented statistics to the committee showing that South Dakota ranked 13th in the nation for the suicide rate during 2016, with 18.6 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people. The rate nationally was 13.9.
Native American suicide rates stood 1.8 times higher than rates for whites in South Dakota between 2004 and 2015. Veterans of the armed forces killed themselves at more than twice the rate for the general population in South Dakota from 2000 through 2016.
The five worst counties for suicides from 2004 through 2016 were Todd, Buffalo, Corson, Oglala Lakota and Dewey. All have significant tribal populations.
State Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon sat next to Clayton at the witness table. “Any preventable death is a public health issue,” she said. “Suicide is a pressing public health issue.”
State Social Services Secretary Lynne Valenti described the variety of state government efforts. They ranged from community tool kits and coalitions to prevention resource centers and locks for firearm-triggers.
Spreading the message, Valenti said, relies on “lots of word of mouth.”
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She said there’s been training for more than 5,000 people and, so far, 827 referrals of people in South Dakota considering suicide.
“This is a serious health issue,” said Rep. Wayne Steinhauer, R-Hartford, who is also committee chairman.
Steinhauer asked how lawmakers could help.
“There’s not a way to legislate your way out of suicide,” Malsam-Rysdon replied.
She acknowledged state government’s prevention efforts don’t include research at any of the higher education campuses.
“I think that’s a great suggestion,” Malsam-Rysdon told Steinhauer.
South Dakota requires schools to provide suicide awareness training. The state Department of Education reportedly tracks those numbers.
“I don’t know that we’ve been able to connect that data to what’s going on with the schools,” Malsam-Rysdon said.