Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is in crisis, you can get help by calling or texting 988 for Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or texting “HOME” to 741-741. Veterans can choose to contact the Veterans Crisis Line, accessible by calling 988 and then pressing 1. Young people from the LGBTQ+ community can reach the Trevor Project by calling 1-866-488- 7386 or by texting “START” to 678-678.
GRAND FORKS – University of North Dakota university officials, alongside more than a dozen partners across the state, hope to increase suicide prevention efforts for veterans, rural people and youth LGBTQ+ in the western half of the state with the help of a new grant.
“We believe that suicides are preventable. That’s absolutely the aspiration,” said Thomasine Heitkamp, a longtime faculty member and research developer in the UND Vice President’s Office for Research and Economic Development.
UND obtained the grant, called North Dakota Healthcare, Opportunity, Prevention, and Education in Suicide prevention (ND HOPES), from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevent. It will provide the university with nearly $1 million per year for five years to implement several prevention and awareness programs in a 21-county region, primarily west of Bismarck.
The grant is a cooperative agreement that will implement suicide prevention programs in the western half of the state and will also involve direct community outreach. Under the grant, UND will work with NORC at the University of Chicago, as well as more than 20 government agencies and nonprofit organizations. NORC is one of the largest independent social research organizations in the United States. It was established in 1941 as the National Opinion Research Center.
Ethan Dahl, UND assistant professor of educational, health, and behavioral studies and principal investigator of the grant, said the work will focus on suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth, veterans, and veterans. rural residents in the 21-county area, as suicide rates among these populations are particularly high. .
“The rates are shockingly high,” he said. “It’s truly sad.”
North Dakota’s suicide death rate is higher than the national average. In 2020, the suicide rate in North Dakota was 18.1 per 100,000 people, compared to 13.5 people per 100,000 in the United States, UND Today noted in an article about the grant.
According to the CDC, there were 135 suicide deaths in 2020 in North Dakota.
In rural areas, this rate is higher – about 20.6 people per 100,000. And the suicide death rate in the area of the 21 counties covered by the grant is 26.2 people per 100,000.
According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 14 year olds and the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.
The Trevor Project, an organization that focuses on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth, says LGBTQ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. The Trevor Project estimates that “more than 1.8 million young LGBTQ people (13-24 years old) seriously consider suicide every year in the United States – and at least one suicide attempt every 45 seconds.”
Nationwide, the suicide rate rose 4% from 2020 to 2021 after two consecutive years of declines in 2019 and 2020, according to provisional data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics released Sept. 30.
The new provisional data shows that the number of suicides rose from 45,979 in 2020 to 47,646 in 2021, the CDC said. The number of suicides in 2021 was still lower than the all-time high of 48,344 in 2018.
Heitkamp noted that many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which puts them at higher risk for suicide. Additionally, she said, rural areas are often isolated from accessing mental health service providers.
The ND HOPES program is divided into three levels.
The first includes community interventions, including the creation of protective environments. Dahl said this would involve working to reduce access to lethal means for people at risk of suicide – safe storage of firearms is one of the main goals, for example.
Time is an important factor for someone contemplating suicide. The longer it takes for someone to act on those thoughts, the complete suicide rate drops dramatically, Dahl said.
“Something as simple as having a padlock on a gun can be enough to prevent an individual from killing and committing suicide,” he said.
UND Today reported that training will be offered to select groups who regularly come into contact with the three underserved groups, such as gun shop and range owners, organizations that serve veterans, personnel working with troubled youth and affiliates of Dakota OutRight, a program that works with LGBTQ+ people.
It will also involve working with Sources of Strength, a now international youth suicide prevention project based in Bismarck, to implement their programming in schools.
The second level will cover healthcare-based interventions with the implementation of Zero Suicide, an ambitious goal and a set of tools and strategies to effectively implement suicide care in healthcare settings. and behavioral health. This work will aim to ensure better access and delivery of suicide care within these communities.
Level 3 focuses on reducing provider shortages through telemental health. The program will offer “evidence-based interventions including suicide risk assessment, safety planning intervention, dialectical behavior therapy, and aftercare,” according to UND Today.
Dahl said it’s important for the UND to show that the efforts are not just working for these communities, but working with them to bring in resources and other programs that are already underway in the state.
“We need to get these communities on board to help them solve these problems themselves,” he said. We recognize this is a problem and we want to do what we can to help individuals in these communities work through this with them.
Each state received a grant for suicide prevention work, but UND was the only university to receive the dollars to help carry out the programming.
Heitkamp said the work connects UND to the western part of the state. It also highlights something affecting families across the state, she said.
“It’s positive and everyone is worried about suicide,” she said. “It’s rare for people to (not have) someone in their family who is struggling with some type of mental health disorder or addiction, so how can we be at this table with key stakeholders who do this work?”
Dahl emphasized the importance of partnerships at the heart of this work.
“I think we’re ahead of some of these other states because we already have the commitment of so many of these different organizations,” he said. “We’re just trying to bring in this funding to stimulate them, increase their reach (and) get them into this catchment area where we’re going to implement some of these programs.”