Rapid City Journal Examines South Dakota American Indian Tribe’s High Suicide Rate, Efforts To Address Issue
A "recent spate of suicides and suicide attempts on [the] Rosebud Indian Reservation," whether it represents "a spike in a cyclical pattern or the start of something worse," has prompted tribal leaders to declare a state of emergency, with the hopes that additional federal funding will improve suicide prevention efforts, the Rapid City Journal reports. The Journal reports that it is difficult to determine the exact number of suicides on the reservation. Rosebud Sioux Tribe Law Enforcement responded to three deaths by suicide and 197 attempts in 2006, and by March 2007, police had responded to three deaths by suicide and 51 attempts. According to one report, the Rosebud hospital since January 2007 handled seven deaths by suicide and 200 attempts. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 24, according CDC, and American Indians and Alaskan Natives have the highest suicide rates among individuals in that age group, the Journal reports. Studies show that suicide commonly is linked to untreated mental health issues, substance and alcohol use, and/or violence. On the Rosebud reservation, high unemployment, poverty, chronic health problems and understaffed health care facilities contribute to the problem, according to the Journal. In an effort to address the issue, tribal leaders have visited schools and distributed educational materials about a suicide hotline, surveyed students about their emotional problems, held religious ceremonies and formed a Suicide Prevention Task Force with representatives from HHS' Indian Health Service and other health experts. Suicide expert Franklin Cook said, "I think it's important to understand that the series of suicides at Rosebud represent a phenomenon that has been occurring in recent years in this region in a number of communities." He added, "It is also important to understand that for all people in South Dakota ... suicide rates among teenagers and young adults are disproportionately high and alarming" (Bell Gease, Rapid City Journal, 4/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.