SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota had the fifth highest rate of suicide in the U.S. in 2021, according to the CDC.

The state Department of Health says more than 200 South Dakotans died of suicide that year.

Early numbers show suicides were down in South Dakota last year from that 10-year high.

Joel Kaskinen is trying to save lives through his work.

He’s the community engagement manager at Lost&Found, a suicide prevention organization.

He found himself here after working in higher education in Colorado.

“I lost three students to suicide in one year’s time, and I was a first responder to a student suicide. I was there when it happened, witnessed it, performed first aid,” Kaskinen said.

He decided to turn the pain and trauma into action.

“If I can talk about suicide and mental health awareness every single day, my hope is that I’m reaching at least one person through my daily conversations,” Kaskinen said.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Karla Salem is an integrated health therapist with Sanford Health.

“We all have our time that the life just gets too much for us. There’s too much going on, it’s overwhelming, it’s sad, all of those things, but when you start feeling those things on a more regular chronic basis, when you just don’t find as much joy or happiness, you don’t find relief from your pain, those are kind of the indicators that things are getting kind of bad,” Salem said.

Salem says that’s a good time to reach out for help from a medical provider, family, or friend.

Meanwhile, Kaskinen is doing everything he can to stop more tragedies from happening.

“Suicide is preventable, and if we raise awareness of mental health challenges and the warning signs from people who are facing these challenges of feeling suicidal or having ideations if we can normalize those conversations and realize that everyone is just going through a tough time and there is help there and we can prevent this, that’s our goal,” Kaskinen said.

If you’re struggling with mental health or having thoughts of suicide, call 988.

You can find more resources at the Mental Health Fair this Saturday at Levitt at the Falls.
It runs from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.