Tag: south dakota

Students need more mental health options, student reps tell SD Board of Regents

Two student representatives voiced their support for increased mental health options for students at the South Dakota Board of Regents meeting in October.

Katie Conzet, executive director of the Student Federation, and Caleb Weiland, president of the Student Federation, spoke as representatives of 30,000 students in South Dakota’s regental system of post-secondary institutions.

Weiland began with statistics explaining why expanding mental health options is important.

“Sadly, in South Dakota between the ages of 20 and 29, suicide is the leading cause of death. Furthermore, South Dakota just broke their own record for suicides per year. The sad truth is, we can and should do more,” Weiland said. “With the understanding that we will never be able to completely solve this issue in its entirety, we can attempt to better address this issue.”

Conzet and Weiland asked regents to support expanding tele mental health options as recommended in Senate Bill 55 Task Force Recommendation Number 29. They also named other services that would be helpful for students, such as QPR training, peer-to-peer mentoring, group therapy, coping skills training, mental health workshops, and app-based services.

“The need for mental health services is not diminishing anytime soon,” Conzet said. “We need to have the systems and programs in place to equip today’s students with the proper mental health education and resources to identify mental health in themselves and others for the betterment of tomorrow. It’s our responsibility to ensure regental mental health infrastructure can adapt to today’s needs. We look forward to more conversations between the board and the Federation on this very important topic.”

Listen to the report (excerpted from the full recording of the meeting) or read the transcript below.




Transcript: Student Federation representatives speak to South Dakota Board of Regents on expanding mental health options


Pam Roberts  00:00

We will move on to report of the Student Federation. Katie, and I think Caleb’s coming up too. There we go.


Katie Conzet  00:13

Good morning, Madam President and members of the Board of Regents. My name is Katie Conzet, and I am the Executive Director of the Student Federation.


Caleb Weiland  00:20

My name is Caleb Weiland. I’m president of the Student Federation. Before we get into a report today, I just want to touch on two things. First, I want to thank almost Dr. Heather Forney for her work … and just advocating on behalf of students to just find a solution to better that situation we have on campuses. And then second, before we dive into our strategic plan update, I want to thank two individuals for pushing me to believe that the strategic plan can actually do something. I’m a changed man from the June meeting. And so I hope you see that today in the report.


Katie Conzet  00:51

All right. So in June, the Federation acted to form a mental health strategic plan, as you might remember. Today, we are here to update the board on our findings and start the constructive conversation. However, before we get into our findings, we want to recognize the work that our mental health professionals and advocates such as the Board of Regents has done and will continue to do to better address these issues.


Caleb Weiland  01:14

To provide a background of information and demonstrate the immense need of why the Federation feel so passionate about calling for increased attention to mental health services on and off all regional campuses, here are a few statistics that represent our motivation. After the COVID 19 pandemic, South Dakota has the eighth highest suicide rate in the nation. Sadly, in South Dakota between the ages of 20 and 29, suicide is the leading cause of death. Furthermore, South Dakota just broke their own record for suicides per year. The sad truth is, we can and should do more. With the understanding that we will never be able to completely solve this issue in its entirety, we can attempt to better address this issue. We, as the elected representatives of over 30,000 students, believe in giving an increased attention and action toward a unified and regental front to combat mental health crisis, the mental health crisis, we stand an affirmation of the Senate Bill 55 Task Force Recommendation Number 29, titled Expand Student Mental Health Options, specifically through telehealth.


Katie Conzet  02:18

The Federation is focused on ensuring students such as those at Black Hill State University-Rapid City and USD Sioux Falls locations and all of our online students are not left out of this discussion. Which is why the investment in tele mental health resources would reach a portion of our peers who already have a lower amount of access to on-campus support systems.


Caleb Weiland  02:38

While our counseling centers find longer wait times for students seeking appointments, and while every campus has an on-call crisis counselor, there are rarely alternative mental health resources for more intermediate-needs students. Currently, from a regental standpoint, the student to counselor ratio, the counselor-to-student ratio is one to 999. The American Counseling Association recommends a counselor-to-student ratio of one to 250. It is not fiscally sustainable nor the most effective approach and use of resources just keep hiring more counselors.


Katie Conzet  03:11

Now we understand that mental health is not a one-size-fits-all problem. It has no silver bullet. An effective approach would be looking at into the expansion and creation of a low-cost and high-impact program. Expanding programs such as QPR training–Question, Persuade and Refer–that equips those trained in addressing signs of suicide crisis and teaches them how to respond. Another program worth looking at is peer-to-peer mentoring. This program pairs an upperclassman with a first-year student who is interested in or the needs of an individual to help them get through their first year of college. Group therapy is an existing program on some campuses that is also worth expanding, as research points to college students suffering largely from stress and time management problems during their first years.


Caleb Weiland  03:55

A few programs worth bringing into the regental system include coping skills training. Coping skills training is based upon giving students the ability to learn how to adapt to situations, take feedback in a non-defensive manner, and better equip our students with resilience training. Additionally, mental health workshops to address time management, stress and depression would be another cost-effective approach at educating students on how to seek help and address mental health issues before they start. Finally, one regental campus has an app that gives intermediate students access to educational modules on a variety of mental health issues. Creating app services regental wide offer students who for one reason or another will not seek counseling but potentially need some potentially need some guidance. By expanding existing and investing in new programs, we can educate campus communities about mental health and push for the destigmatization of seeking mental health resources on and off college campuses.


Katie Conzet  04:50

The need for mental health services is not diminishing anytime soon. New reports show that regental growth is vast, and we the Federation are ecstatic to hear these numbers. However, while this growth is good, we need to have the systems and programs in place to equip today’s students with the proper mental health education and resources to identify mental health in themselves and others for the betterment of tomorrow. It’s our responsibility to ensure regental mental health infrastructure can adapt to today’s needs. We look forward to more conversations between the board and the Federation on this very important topic. And we thank you all for your time.


Pam Roberts 05:27

Thank you very much. Are there any questions from the regents on the report? Yes, Regent Brock–Regent Brock Brown?


Brock Brown  05:35

Either way. Well, thank you so much for making the report. I think that through our conversations, it’s so important that when you said in June that we are going to make this report, and we’re gonna have this task force, now you’ve followed through. And during my time on the board, students have brought two issues to the board. They’ve been successful on one of them. So I hope this is another one, and we can come together and have more conversations, like you said, but what do you think the next steps are, from your perspective from us, with staff and on each individual campus?


Katie Conzet  06:02

Well, the first step, which is kind of probably on everyone’s mind, is funding. So whatever we decide to establish as a federation, whatever the next course of action is, it’s where are we going to get the money for that? So we’ve been working with Dr. Miner, looking at some potential outcomes for that. But otherwise, I mean, we’re here with our issue to hopefully work with you guys in collaboration to come to a conclusion based on that.


Pam Roberts  06:30

Further questions, comments? Yes, Regent Rave?


Tim Rave  06:32

I don’t know that I have a question per se, but may spur some conversation. So I just came back from a meeting in Washington DC with a group of my peers. And obviously, mental health crisis is, you know, not a South Dakota problem. It’s a–it’s a nation problem that’s not only isolated to college campuses. And so, I think I just bring this up for discussion, because I know there’s a lot of tools in that toolbox. And you guys did a fantastic job of laying out, you know, things that I hadn’t even thought of the peer-to-peer counseling and some of these other topics. One thing we didn’t talk about, unless I missed it, was looking at some telehealth options, and then, you know, trying to differentiate between a mental health crisis. And I think Caleb actually talked a little bit about, you know, maybe just someone needs somebody to talk to, and that, you know, feels a little more peer-to-peer to me, but I think, I think as this evolves, and it’s not a problem we’re gonna solve today, if we did, we’d be all rich and retired, because we’d have it figured out, and we’re not going to do that. But I think I do appreciate the conversation. I do appreciate the fact that I think there are some steps we can start taking and start looking at some of these avenues. And so there are some opportunities, I think, to make some some progress.


Pam Roberts  07:37

Thank you. Anybody else? Thank you is really a good presentation, a well thought out and well prepared. So thank you very much. We appreciate it.


Katie Conzet  07:47

Thank you all.

Start the Conversation: 2022 Suicide Prevention Conference

Suicide Prevention Conference - header

Celebrate South Dakota’s successful and impactful suicide prevention work. This conference will provide additional tools and resources for suicide prevention and stigma reduction related to mental health.

Key speakers include:

  • KEITH HOTLE – Keith is the Chief Program Officer at Stop Soldier Suicide. He provides leadership in suicide prevention, personal empowerment and health promotion for veterans, active military and their families.
  • DR. SCOTT POLAND – Dr. Poland is a licensed psychologist and an internationally recognized expert in school safety, youth suicide, self-injury, bullying, school crisis prevention, intervention, threat assessment and parenting in challenging times.
  • BEVERLY BEUERMANN-KLING – Beverly Beuermann-Kling is a resilience and wellness strategist who uses or S-O-S Principle to help people control their reactions to stress, build resiliency against life’s challenges and live MORE.
  • DIANA CORTEZ YANEZ – As a multiple attempt suicide survivor, Diana has a mission to save lives by educating and informing health institutions and families on how to connect, support, and transform systems and communication to better aid those in crisis.
  • DR. HEATHER AYN IDELICATO – Heather Ayn Indelicato, PsyD. (“Dr. I”) is a licensed psychologist. She led the Zero Suicide Implementation Team at Tséhootsooi Medical Center (TMC) on the Navajo Reservation. The team was distinguished as a national leader in providing culturally informed, suicide safer practices.

This event is hosted by the South Dakota Suicide Prevention Workgroup with funding from the Department of Social Services and Department of Health.

This two-day conference will be held on August 11th from 10:00am-5:00pm CST and August 12th from 8:00am-12:00pm CST, with an optional training opportunity from 12:00pm-1:00pm CST.

Register at Start the Conversation: 2022 Suicide Prevention Conference Registration, Sioux Falls | Eventbrite.

Record number of South Dakotans died by suicide in 2021

Suicides in South Dakota increased to a record level last year, according to provisional data released by the South Dakota Department of Health in April.

In 2021, 198 South Dakotans died by suicide. This is higher than in 2019 and 2020, which each had 185 suicides, and is the highest ever recorded in the state.

Provisional Suicide Data, South Dakota (2020-2021)

Provisional Suicide Data, South Dakota (2020-2021)


The finalized death data from 2020 show several significant problems for South Dakota:

  • South Dakota had the 8th highest suicide rate in the United States in 2020.
  • Four South Dakota counties rank in the top 1% highest suicide rates in the U.S. (2010-2019).
  • American Indian suicide rates are 2.5 times higher than White race rates in South Dakota (2011-2020).
  • In 2020, suicide was the leading cause of death among those ages 10-19 and the second-leading cause of death among those ages 20-29.

“The particularly strong impact on youth and young adults is concerning for the future of our state,” said Erik Muckey, CEO and Executive Director of Lost&Found.


Pandemic-related increase

The timing of the increase—with more suicides in the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021—suggest that the increase is at least in part related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While we continue to analyze underlying factors for this record, we know that the pandemic impeded many of the protective factors against suicide while increasing certain risk factors for suicide,” Muckey said.

These are some of the protective factors that prevent suicide that were affected by the pandemic: 

  • Access to mental health care – Many people who had been seeing a mental health professional were not able to continue that care in person when social distancing was practiced. (Meeting through video conferencing allowed care to continue in many cases.)
  • Connectedness to others – Social distancing made connecting with others more difficult. Connecting through technology helped but wasn’t quite the same and left out people without access to or knowledge of that technology.
  • Sense of purpose in life – Layoffs and school closings may have diminished the sense of purpose for some people.
  • Talking about mental health – Mental health concerns may have been more difficult to discuss when not face to face with another person.

The pandemic also increased some of the risk factors that increase the risk of suicide: 

  • Substance use disorders – For those struggling with a substance use disorder, staying home more often when work and other places were closed may have increased substance use.
  • Family dysfunction – People who otherwise might have left home for work or school were less likely to do so during the pandemic, which may have exacerbated fraught family dynamics.
  • Endured prolonged stress or a traumatic event – Because of the pandemic, more people were dealing with illness and death of a loved one. Prolonged social isolation can also be damaging to mental health.

Just because suicides increased during the pandemic does not mean, unfortunately, that the end of the pandemic (whenever that is) will result in lower suicide rates. Research suggests that the mental health effects of the pandemic will last beyond the reduction of physical illness in society, especially for those more closely and seriously affected by Covid-19. Pandemic-related poorer mental health and increased risk of suicide is likely to exist for some time to come.


Comprehensive strategy

We can, however, learn from this moment. The pandemic has shown what happens when much of society sees a reduction in the protective factors that can prevent suicide, and an increase in the factors that can increase risk of suicide. Enacting policies and programs that protect people from suicide and reduce the risk of suicide—especially for those most at risk—can save lives.

Since the factors that lead to suicide come from all levels of society—within individuals, but also in relationships, in communities, and in society as a whole—suicide prevention requires a systemic approach. Lost&Found is one organization out of many working on suicide prevention, but more people, organizations, schools, and workplaces need to get involved in the work of building up protective factors and reducing risk factors.

“The more comprehensive our suicide prevention efforts become, the more effective they will be,” Muckey said. “That is absolutely essential to saving lives.”


Learn more about protective and risk factors in Lost&Found’s Let’s Talk About Mental Health guide, which can be downloaded here. Learn more about getting involved with Lost&Found’s suicide prevention efforts here.