Rosebud leaders worried about spike in suicides 4-15-07

ROSEBUD, S.D. (AP) - Leaders on the Rosebud Reservation are worried about a recent spike in suicides and attempts. Rosebud Sioux Tribe Law Enforcement officers responded to three deaths by suicide and 197 attempts in 2006. Through March of this year, police had been called to three suicides and 51 attempts. Whether the rise is part of a cyclical pattern or the start of something worse, Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Rodney Bordeaux wants to do something about it immediately.

He's declared a state of emergency with the hope of bringing in more federal funding to boost suicide prevention efforts on the reservation.

``We're hoping to prevent some in the future,'' Bordeaux said. ``You just don't know.''

Franklin Cook, a Rapid City consultant on suicide, said what's happening at Rosebud isn't extraordinary in terms of recent history.

``I think it's important to understand that the series of suicides at Rosebud represent a phenomenon that has been occurring in recent years in this region in a number of communities,'' said Cook, who works with suicide prevention at the local, state and national level. ``It is also important to understand that for all people in South Dakota - Native and white alike - suicide rates among teenagers and young adults are disproportionately high and alarming.''

South Dakota ranked 13th in the nation in 2004 in suicides per capita with 14.5 suicides for every 100,000 people, according to the American Association of Suicidology.

Alaska ranks first with 23.6 deaths per 100,000 people. Eight of the top 10 states on the list - including Colorado, Wyoming and Montana - are western mountain states.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The American Association of Suicidology reported a suicide rate of 13 per 100,000 in that age group in 2004.

Indian and Alaskan Natives have the highest suicide rate among that age group. The American Psychological Association cites a 2000 report by the Indian Health Service showing a suicide rate among Indian youth of 33.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

Studies show that suicide is often linked to untreated mental health issues, violence and alcohol and drug abuse. Other risk factors can include family instability or conflict, recent severe stressors such as an unplanned pregnancy and exposure to the suicidal behavior of others.

Problems common on Indian reservations - high unemployment, widespread poverty, racial discrimination substance abuse and chronic health problems - compound the risks.

Many believe that teenagers involved in school programs or other activities are less likely to choose suicide, but the indicators don't always apply.

Angel Wilson's son, Clay, was involved in school activities, too. The 19yearold senior made the Todd County High School basketball team and also played football.

But Clay had struggled with depression for years. He had attempted suicide before but ``seemed like he was doing better,'' Wilson said.

She worried after one of Clay's childhood friends killed himself early last summer, but her son seemed to handle the loss.

Clay was under the care of a psychiatrist when he hanged himself Jan. 24.

``It was pretty hard on everybody,'' his mother said. ``There was no warning. No one knew anything was wrong.''

After the recent deaths, Rosebud Sioux Tribal leaders went to schools at Todd County and St. Francis to talk to students and hand out information on suicide crisis lines. A traditional spiritual leader, Roy Stone, also came in to pray with the students.

Tribal leaders also distributed surveys to high school students, asking about the problems they face, who they can talk to about those problems and what the tribe can do to help.

Among the responses: There's too much violence on the reservation. Parents need to take responsibility for their children. Alcohol and drugs are ruining families and communities. No one cares. No one listens to us.

``Show us something other than talk,'' one student wrote.