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ND Looks to Bring Down State's High Teen Suicide Rate

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 years in North Dakota. (Jared Keener/Flickr)
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 years in North Dakota. (Jared Keener/Flickr)
June 16, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. – One of the most disturbing figures in new data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation is that North Dakota teens are three times as likely to commit suicide as their peers nationwide. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in the state.

Alison Traynor, Suicide Prevention Program Director at the North Dakota Department of Health, says while there is much more work to do, suicides have decreased slightly over the past two years.

Traynor says getting ahead of the problem of suicide risk is key.

"We want to be helping students develop coping skills and self-esteem, feelings of wellness and just self-compassion, too, so that they are not getting to the point where they are thinking about suicide," she says.

Traynor notes suicide rates are higher in rural areas and also among the state's Native American population.

Traynor's office supports prevention programs around the state. One, called Sources of Strength, was developed with members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

In the early 2000s, when school resource officer Mark LoMurray had been to 30 funerals in two years, he decided to take action to help prevent suicide. Traynor describes what he did next.

"He and researchers pulled together folks that had attempted suicide, had gotten treatment or worked to feel better, and then had actually recovered and were feeling better," she explains. "And they asked those folks what they did that worked for them."

LoMurray and researchers then designed a "wheel" of keys to suicide prevention. Sources of Strength has spread to 15 other states since 2006.

Traynor encourages North Dakotans to call 1-800-273-TALK if they need to speak with someone. Anyone can go online to to learn more about prevention programs.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND