Montana and Wyoming are filled with natural beauty, rugged history, and good people, but the states also share a commonality that doesn’t make their people so proud.
Per capita, the two states rank first (Wyoming) and third (Montana) for deaths by suicide, and in both states suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-44.
Data shows while 12,000,000 Americans have serious thoughts about suicide, 47,511 complete it each year.
Dr. Eric Arzubi, Child and Adult Psychiatrist and Co-Founder of Frontier Psychiatry is working to change that.
“It’s not that people don't want to live,” said Arzubi. “A lot of them feel like they've exhausted every possible way of getting closer to having peace of mind, slowing down the thoughts that are sort of distressing and upsetting, can't find relief, don't know how to find relief, and ultimately feel trapped.”
Finding help to cope with those feelings is very difficult in rural states. 2020 data reveals 68.5% of Wyoming communities do not have enough mental health providers to serve residents. In Montana, that number jumps to 88.4%.
Arzubi and his team of experts reach beyond miles and borders and bring patients face to face with mental health experts in rural hospitals across Montana. They do that through virtual Tele psychiatry.
“At least what we're trying to do is try to make it really easy to access mental health care, no matter where people are in Montana,” he said.
First and foremost, Arzubi recommends if you are concerned about a friend, family member or colleague encourage them to seek professional help, whether that’s texting, calling or physically getting them to the safe place.
The reasons behind suicide run wide and deep. Childhood trauma, loss, genetics, isolation, risk factors and mental health issues come from every direction in life. So, learning the risk factors, warning signs and how to respond is also key to saving lives.
“Ask them open-ended questions when you're talking with them. Don't say you know, oh you're doing okay, right? Say, 'How are you doing today, what's been going on?' Just really let them talk,” said Megan Saunders.
Saunders knows suicide firsthand, and now helps others cope with loss and learn the tools. She is a Peer-to-peer suicide loss co-facilitator who says the greatest gift we can give our loved ones is to truly listen to their pain. “And it might be scary, and that's okay. But just let them use their voice and tell you what's going on with them because I think, for so many people struggling with any sort of mental illness. All they want is a space to be heard and connected to.”
A message also backed up by Dr. Arzubi, who tells people they almost need a “poker face.” He suggests if someone comes to you and starts talking about dark thoughts, get curious instead of closing the conversation. “What happens, understandably is that a parent will respond and say, 'No, don’t do that. You shouldn’t do that, your life, your life is fine. Isn’t your life fine?'”
Instead, Arzubi suggests striking that poker face, get curious, and say,“Tell me more,” to open up the conversation.
“Now inside I get we want to say, no, don't kill yourself, that's a bad idea, to stop it. But that's not necessary what the person needs to hear at that moment what they hear need to hear at that point is acceptance and empathy and curiosity. Tell me more.”