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September 09, 2012 05:31 PM

Reservations Get Suicide Prevention Grants

Kyle, SD

This summer we told you about the Sweetgrass suicide prevention program on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which was shut down after its funding expired.

A new grant from the Department of Health and Human Services has reopened Sweetgrass for another three years and is even funding new programs on area reservations.

Suicide is an issue everywhere. But on South Dakota's Indian Reservations suicide occurs at more than twice the national rate.

"Our people get into issues of self-worth and also identity crises in regards to how they fit into the dominant society creates a lot of problems for our teens on the reservation," Oglala Lakota College President Tom Shortbull said.

"Their world is very intense and it needs to be safe and they need to know that there's that hope and that things are going to change, you know?" Oglala Lakota College Library Director Michelle May said.

A $4.6 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services has been designated to South Dakota's Indian Reservations to help curb the suicide epidemic. 

More than $300,000 of that will go to the Oglala Lakota College, which has facilities on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Reservations, as well as in Rapid City.

The college will use the grant money to teach its faculty to identify the signs and symptoms of someone who's at risk for suicide.

"After the fact you always can say, 'well, I saw the signs.'  But when you see someone on a day to day basis you may not see that there is a change in their behavior," Shortbull said.

Staff at the college are eager to learn how they can be the difference that saves a life.

"We have people here that will welcome that resource and that will take it seriously.  And I think it will be a tremendous help because how can it be anything but positive?" May said.

The grant money is being provided through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration and will be distributed over three years.

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