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Volunteers Respond To Cluster Of Suicide Deaths In Western SD

Jackie Hendry
Bridget Swier is one of four LOSS Team volunteers with the Front Porch Coalition.

September is suicide prevention month in South Dakota. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the state…and data from earlier this year suggest suicides are on the rise.   

At the end of August, a small group of volunteers based in Rapid City responded to five suicides in less than two weeks.   

The Front Porch Coalition is a suicide prevention non-profit that serves Pennington, Meade and parts of Lawrence County. One of its services is the LOSS Team: volunteers with their own experiences of suicide loss who comfort families immediately after a death by suicide. 

Responding quickly after a death by suicide is prevention work. Losing a friend or family member to suicide is itself a risk factor.   

 “If you lose a loved one to suicide, you are ten times more likely to struggle with suicidal ideation yourself,” says Bridget Swier, the director of outreach and communication for the Front Porch Coalition. She’s also one of four members of the LOSS Team.   

Swier says the team remains connected with grieving loved ones up to a year after the death.   

 “There’s a lot that happens in that first year for families,” she explains. “They’re grieving the loss. There’s anniversaries that come up. Holidays. Those are very difficult times. And because suicide grief is a very complex grief with complex emotions, we want to make sure they know there is a support system available for them.”  

Normally members take time off from the team if they’ve responded to multiple calls in a short amount of time. Swier says the small team has made that impossible.   

 “When you’ve had five suicides in under two weeks, it’s really hard to regain your composure.”  

Swier says more LOSS Team members is a big need, but she also encourages people to take the time they need to heal from their own loss before volunteering. Those interested can contact the Front Porch Coalition by email. Anyone interested in seeking help for their own suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or the statewide 2-1-1 Helpline.   

Provisional data from the Department of Health shows 88 people died by suicide in the first five months of this year. That’s compared to 59 deaths in the same time period last year.   

The Front Porch Coalition serves all of Pennington and Meade Counties and parts of Lawrence County.

Jackie is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls Studio.