For the past 40 years, Montana has ranked in the top five in the nation for suicide rates. It’s a troubling statistic and an issue that has likely touched most Montanans in some way.
MTN is teaming up with Montana experts - people who are passionate about saving lives - to look into suicide in the state and how to lower the rate, and ideally eliminate suicide.
The “MTN Zero Suicide Initiative” is about telling people’s stories and looking into statistics to cultivate change and provide resources.
“It’s a personal responsibility of all of us to gain knowledge, to become educated and not be nonchalant about this issue that’s a very grave and troubling issue in our state,” said Greg Tilton, the chair of the Cascade County Mental Health Local Advisory Suicide Prevention Team.
Tilton is part of a an effort trying to break Montana’s trend of continually being among the leaders of suicide rates in the nation. Comprised of passionate and committed people representing different sectors of the community, the Local Advisory Council Suicide Prevention Team was formed to get to the heart of the issue and to educate and break down stigma.
“Stigma is born of fear and ignorance, or fear and lack of knowledge, so when you counter balance that lack of knowledge with information, information, information about what resources the community has, where you can gave help, where you can gain assessments, gain screenings,” Tilton said.
A report from the Montana Suicide Mortality Review Team shows 555 Montanans took their own life between January 1, 2014 and March 1, 2016. Of those, 79% were male, 21% female. Breaking the 555 into age groups, 104 were committed by those age 55 to 64, followed closely by those 35 to 54 years old.
Montana’s most populated counties lead the list in number of suicides per county. During the above indicated two year time span, Cascade County reported 29 suicides, and Lewis & Clark reported 27.
The numbers among Montana’s Native American population is particularly troublesome, with a suicide rate more than double the national average.
For the state’s young population in 2015, 8.9% of high schoolers attempted suicide at least once and 11.6% of seventh and eighth graders had attempted suicide in the last year.
According to the Montana Suicide Mortality Review Team, approximately 90% of those who complete suicide suffer from at least one major psychiatric disorder. Mood disorders are the most prevalent, followed by substance abuse disorder. However, it’s important to note that not all people who live with a mental illness attempt suicide. Research into Montana’s 555 suicides between January 1, 2014 and March 1, 2016 indicates 411 people or 74% showed warning signs, while 144 or 26% did not.
Tilton said, “It’s a public health issue because it involves mortality, it involves death. Ultimately everyone is at risk at some level or another. Suicide becomes everyone’s business when it touches us.”
Public health services are a big part of changing stigma. Jo-Viviane Jones is a member of the Local Advisory Council Suicide Prevention Team and represents the Cascade City County Health Department as the Family Health Services Division Manager.
“CCHD is involved in the suicide prevention team because we’re interested in helping with the education piece and we’re hoping to do some screening at the health department this year and in other locations, but we also want to provide support to parents of young children,” said Jones.
CCHD collaborates with multiple community partners to identify gaps in services.
“Not just the prevention piece, but also by preventing suicide and educating the community about it, working on that resiliency factor and helping families find support,” explained Jones.
We live in a culture that often values perceived toughness, self-sufficiency, and not asking for help.
Tilton, who has studied and practiced psychology and psychotherapy explains, “many people are fearful of presenting themselves for therapy because of what we call an iceberg belief, that if I ask for help, I’ll look weak and because of that they fear stepping forward and going for therapy or screening.” “The stigmatization of mental health services, that I think it a bigger problem. If we could pull ourselves up by the boot straps, that’d be a different, but without knowledge or how and the resources, it’s a little difficult.”
There is hope and help available for those who live are thinking about suicide.
“You may not be able to change events, but you can always change what you think about them,” said Tilton.
Tilton said one of the goals of the Local Advisory Council Suicide Prevention Team is to marry up public health, with behavior health, mental health and spiritual health.
If you are in crisis and want help, call the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at 1-800-273-TALK or text “MT” to 741 741.