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Human Services Center aims for zero suicides

For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, September 23, 2020  
Media Contact: Steve Long, steve.long@state.sd.us or 605.773.3165  

Human Services Center aims for zero suicides  

YANKTON – The goal is zero. South Dakota’s only state run inpatient psychiatric facility, the South Dakota Human Services Center, is using “Zero Suicide” practices to help save lives.   

Zero Suicide is both a concept and a practice developed by national suicide prevention organizations. The Human Services Center (HSC) began implementing “Zero Suicide” in 2017.  The intent is to continue de-stigmatizing mental health and treat it like any other medical condition. 

“We’re striving to create a culture that promotes openly talking about suicide and what we can do to further support our patients,” said HSC Administrator Jeremy Johnson.    

Three key elements of “Zero Suicide” include: 

  1. Assessing suicide risks at admission, during treatment, and before discharge; 
  2. Effective treatment for suicidal feelings, and training all staff on how to talk with someone about those feelings; 
  3. Linking people to the needed resources as they transition from inpatient care to supports within the community. 

 Staff at the HSC is trained to use effective screening tools that help determine the severity of suicidal thoughts, while also facilitating a conversation between the patient and their treatment team member. 

“We are empowering all of our staff to recognize they’re part of the care we provide,” Johnson said. “The intent is not to have them ‘fix’ the thoughts, but rather listen, support, and connect our patients with a professional member of the treatment team.”  

Before discharge, the HSC treatment team works with the patient to establish a safety plan outlining what the patient can do if thoughts of suicide return. This plan empowers the patient to use the skills they’ve learned in treatment. The team works with them to schedule follow-up appointments with necessary providers to continue treatment in an outpatient setting.  

After discharge, staff send Caring Cards, which are supportive and inspirational postcards that remind the patient that someone cares about them.  

In South Dakota, the Zero Suicide framework is also used by many groups including community mental health centers, substance use disorder treatment agencies, inpatient behavioral health systems, and outpatient primary care providers. 

To find help in your area, visit dss.sd.gov and click on the Behavioral Health tab or go to www.sdsuicideprevention.org.   

If you, a family member, or friend are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression or anxiety, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line “Hello” to 741741.