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Invisible Wounds: Preventing suicide among veterans and active duty military in South Dakota

South Dakota is working to prevent suicide among veterans and active duty military. Persistent stress can affect anyone, and those who have served or are currently serving may be at greater risk for suicide than others.

“Suicide is preventable, and everyone has a role to play in saving lives,” said South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Greg Whitlock. “In order to decrease the rate of veteran suicide, it is imperative to address the challenges veterans face head-on and provide support to increase hope and resilience at the individual, family, and community level.”

It is important to know the warning signs and what to do if your veteran or service member is experiencing a crisis or thoughts of suicide. Knowing these things has the potential to save lives. The tragedy of suicide affects everyone: friends, loved ones, coworkers, and the community.

The US Department of Veteran Affairs has an online suicide-prevention training video, titled “SAVE” (Signs, Ask, Validate, Encourage and Expedite). It teaches people easy to remember steps to take if they were to interact with a veteran, or anyone, who may be at risk for suicide. The free 25 minute online training course is available here and covers three main topics:

  • Suicide as a public health issue in the U.S.;
  • Signs that a veteran may be at risk for suicide; and
  • Actions people can take if they identify a veteran at risk.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that nationally there were 6,146 veteran suicides in 2020, which is down 1.8% from 2019. However, veteran deaths in South Dakota increased between 2019 and 2020 by 13.0%. Veteran suicide rates were significantly higher for SD veterans (39.4) than the national general population rate of suicide (17.3).

“While some of the wounds of military service aren’t visible on the outside, they are very real on the inside,” said Department of Social Services Cabinet Secretary Laurie Gill. “We can all watch for warning signs of crisis, help combat the stigma of mental health, and assist those in need of care.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, the Veterans Crisis Line offers 24/7 free and confidential support for veterans, service members, and their families. Dial 988 then press 1; text 838255; or chat online. If you are overseas, the chat option is also available, and direct crisis line numbers can be found at veteranscrisisline.net.

Additional resources available to veterans, service members, and their families include:

  • To find a local mental health provider in your area, visit dss.sd.gov or call the South Dakota Treatment Resource Hotline at 1-800-920-4343. Services can be in person or via telehealth and financial assistance is available.
  • If you are a veteran or a family member of a vet facing challenges in your everyday life, connect with stories of help and hope at maketheconnection.net.
  • Militaryonesource.mil provides 24/7 support to service members and family members for non-crisis concerns, such as relationship, family, or financial challenges.
  • US Department of Veteran Affairs has a variety of mental health resources, information, treatment options, and more at mentalhealth.va.gov.

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