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The stigma associated with suicide is a major issue in South Dakota, which has the 7th-highest rate of suicide in the country. (Marie L./Flickr)
Marie L.
The stigma associated with suicide is a major issue in South Dakota, which has the 7th-highest rate of suicide in the country. (Marie L./Flickr)
Fighting stigma during Suicide Prevention Week
Greater Dakota News Service/Eric Tegethoff - September 13, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. - This week is Suicide Prevention Week and one of the biggest fights in stopping these tragedies is confronting the stigma associated with it.

Angela Drake, a board member of the South Dakota chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, says Midwesterners are people who believe in pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. But that sometimes led them to avoid talking about diseases, like cancer or AIDS in the past.

"The more education that came out about other diseases, the more we understood that we needed to take care of these people and not shame them," she says. "And mental health, we're a bit behind in that and so we need to keep the education going so people can educate themselves and educate their loved ones to know that this is a disease and it needs to be fought."

South Dakota's suicide rate is more than 20 per 100,000 people, well above the national average of about 13 per 100,000. According to AFSP, that's the seventh highest rate in the country.

Each year, more than 44,000 Americans die by suicide. The organization is holding an awareness walk called "Out of the Darkness" on September 23 in Sioux Falls.

Drake says the warning signs for suicide are different for everyone, but it's important to step in if necessary.

"If you notice a friend struggling or you just notice some major changes happening with them, ask them," she adds. "Ask them if they're doing okay. It's okay to be a little bit nosy."

Nationally, five times more people die by suicide than by homicide. Firearms account for almost half of all suicides. The AFSP's goal is to reduce suicide deaths 20 percent by 2025. Go to afsp.org to find more resources for suicide prevention.

Meanwhile, the Rapid City School District will hold an hour long discussion on suicide Wednesday night.

The 6-7 p.m. meeting will be held at the School Administration Building.

Mental health experts and law enforcement will provide information about suicide and mental illness in adolescents, including risk factors and warning signs of suicide. They will also answere any questions from the audience.

KOTA-TV reports that since the middle of July, eight RCAS students and on staff member have died -- three of those deaths were suicide.

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