Rosebud's suicide hotline makes a difference on the reservation, but people say more needs to be done

Published: Feb. 8, 2019 at 11:18 AM CST
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A purple church sits steady as it has for the last 133 years at the St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

The bright building stands out on the rolling prairie land that catches the eye even a few miles away. As you get closer, church bells ring and the wind carries the sound across the plains.

But more than that, it also serves as a bright symbol of hope on the reservation where the suicide rate is high, but the resources are low.

"I do believe we struggle with not having enough," says Geraldine Provencial, Director of the Recovery Center at the St. Francis Mission.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports that the suicide rate among Native American youth is the worst, at 10 times the national rate.

And Rosebud is not immune to this statistic.The St. Francis Mission runs a 24-hour suicide hotline to help combat that average.

"St. Francis Mission Suicide Hotline, how may I help you?"

Caroline Decory answers the hotline, which is a cellphone volunteers carry around with them.

She recalls one of the most troubling calls she ever received. It was from an 8-year-old boy.

"My first thought was wow, my daughter is 8 years old," said Decory. "It shattered my heart. My daughter doesn't even know what that is. Why is this little kid feeling like this? I was glad I was there to help."

Since the line started in 2012, it's become another sign of hope. It's one of the few reservation run hotlines in the country and volunteers believe it's making a difference for one major reason. Volunteers also live on Rosebud and know what it is like.

"We are familiar with how it is around here unlike the national suicide hotline, they don't know what it's like here," said Decory.

"The people answering the phones are native people who live on the reservation, who are aware of the struggles and challenges we face," said Provencial, who also is the program manager for the hotline.

Decory is one of five volunteers and she answers no matter what.

"It happened in church once, it happens while you're sleeping," Decory said as she listed the many times she had to walk out of wherever she was to pick up.

Rosebud once had a suicide prevention grant that providers said was very helpful. However, since they lost that a few years back, it's made things more difficult.

"We were able to outreach to all the communities on the reservation," said Austin Keith, the chief operations officer at the St. Francis Mission. "And the reservation is quite large and communities are spaced out, so it's not always easy to get to the people that need help."

While the hotline is a start, Provencial says more needs to be done.

"It's very basic support," she said.

Father James Kubicki, who is the priest at the mission and president of the mission board, excitedly talks about the good work Provencial and the volunteers are doing with the hotline. He too, sees it as a bright sign of hope.

"We are the only program really going right now on the reservation," said Fr. Kubicki. "There is Indian Health Services, but people aren't able to get in and if they miss an appointment, then they are dropped."

Keith, the COO of the mission, used to be a provider at Indian Health Services and he also agreed there was only so much they could do.

"When I was working there, we had three full-time providers and one social worker for the entire reservation," Keith explained. "As opposed to Pine Ridge has 19 providers. There is a definite need."

Until more can be done, volunteers will keep the hotline going, always on and always answering.

"We're up against a lot of challenges, a lot issues," said Provencial. "And I know that there are people who've reached out to the line and find that hope through reaching out."

The hotline number is 605-319-1280. Anyone can call or text this number.