ND Suicide-Prevention Grants Come at Crucial Time

Mike Moen

BISMARCK - North Dakota is rolling out another round of grants to help communities prevent suicides, and state officials say there's more urgency with this funding, given the pandemic and its added stresses for many.

The Department of Human Services' Behavioral Health Division will award $750,000, to be shared by up to 19 community groups, local and tribal governments and nonprofits - all to develop or increase suicide-prevention strategies.

While more people already may have reached out for help, division director Pamela Sagness said history shows that for others, it can take longer for the effects of a crisis to surface.

"This is the time for us to be gearing up to really not only support individuals that are already feeling the mental-health impact, but those that will potentially be feeling those impacts for several years," she said.

The deadline for groups to apply for grant funding is March 5. Sagness said the most recent state data, from last spring, found nearly 70% of respondents reported an increase in mental-health struggles. Nationally, the group Mental Health America reported that nearly 180,000 Americans had frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm last year - the largest number in its reporting history.

Mental-health providers and advocates have said lack of access to services has been exacerbated by the crisis. Sagness said that's why it's important for grant recipients to build suicide-prevention infrastructure at the local level.

"Who are some high-risk groups that we want to be able to ensure that we're providing services to? For example, survivors of suicide loss, young adults, individuals or service members with military experience," she said.

Prior to the pandemic, the department noted that among North Dakota high-school students, almost 19% reported they had "seriously considered" a suicide attempt in 2019, compared with 12.4% a decade earlier. The National Suicide Prevention Helpline is always available at 800-273-TALK (8255).

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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