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Avera launches campaign to promote discussions about suicide

Avera Health

The interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public affairs show, In the Moment, with Lori Walsh.

September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, and that spotlight may raise questions for some people. What is the best approach to ask friends and family about their mental health and whether they may be contemplating suicide.

To help navigate the subject, Avera launched its campaign “Ask the Question” to provide resources and tools on suicide prevention.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. South Dakota is 10th in the nation for suicide rates, and in 2021, the South Dakota Department of Health reported 198 deaths from suicide.

“I think when you’re close to someone, you want to believe there is no way they would do it, that the protective factors of love and relationships would mean they won’t,” said Matt Stanley, vice president for behavioral health at Avera. “So I think we’re often hesitant to ask about it.”

Stanley said research has shown that asking someone if they are thinking of suicide does not increase the likelihood of suicidal behaviors but allows the person an opportunity to talk about their feelings freely.

Stanley added that if someone has been thinking of suicide, it’s important not to rush into any actions or try to convince them of why they should not harm themselves.

“I think it’s important to just have an empathic ear,” he said. “Listen to what’s going on with them. Try to let them know that whatever they need, you’ll be there for them.”

Avera’s “Ask the Question” campaign includes tools like suicide warning signs, information about preventing suicide in children and teens, and how to remove or secure things like guns, alcohol and pesticides that someone could use to harm themselves.

Stanley said to remember that suicide ideation, like most illnesses, can fluctuate from day to day, and it’s important to bring up concerns about suicide more than just once if necessary.

“I tell people, I think it’s important that we have these conversations about our mental health when we’re not in crisis,” he said. “It needs to become more of an acceptable conversation, something we would talk about just like any other aspect of our health.”

Jordan is a senior English and journalism major at SDSU in Brookings. She is from De Smet, South Dakota. She is based out of the Sioux Falls studio.