For the first time in the 19-year history of the Montana Family Residency Program, residents will receive formalized training in suicide prevention.
The training, which began Tuesday, will be offered to third-year residents during their one-month rotation in public health.
The training is being implemented with a $9,000 financial boost from the Montana Suicide Prevention coordinator’s budget.
“This is exactly the direction we need to go, especially with the lack of mental health services in the state,” said Karl Rosston, Montana’s suicide prevention coordinator. “Primary care physicians are often first responders and the first line of defense.
The residents will participate in an online QPR class that is tailored specifically for primary care physicians. QPR stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer — three simple steps that anyone can learn to help prevent a suicide.
People trained in QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a potential suicide and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help.
The formalized training is the brainchild of Claire Oakley, director of Public Health Services at RiverStone Health where the Montana Family Residency Program is housed. Its genesis was the Third Annual Suicide Prevention Conference held in Billings in September 2013.
Rosston was speaking and shared some disturbing statistics. Forty-five percent of the people who complete suicides had been in contact with their primary care physician within 30 days of taking their lives. Twenty percent of them had been in contact with their primary care physician within 24 hours of completing the act.
“I was jolted,” Oakley said.
The training comes at a time when suicide continues to be a state and national concern.
U.S. national suicide deaths rose slightly for the fifth year in a row from 12.1 per 100,000 in 2010 to 12.3 per 100,000 in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Data and Statistics Fatal Injury Report released last week. Suicide rates, for both males and females, show similarly slight increases with the male rate rising from 19.8 to 20.0 and the female rate rising from 5.0 to 5.2 (all rates per 100,000 individuals).
Montana — along with Wyoming — was ranked No. 1, recording 232 suicides in 2011. The rate is twice the national rate.
The QPR training will ultimately provide primary care providers in the state with more tools to help those contemplating suicide, Oakley said.
“We hope those statistics decrease and that the suicide numbers decrease,” Oakley said.
Barbara J. Schneeman, vice president of Communication and Public Affairs for RiverStone, said the formalized training is “hugely significant” given that so many of the family medicine residents stay in state to practice.
Since its establishment in 1995, more than 70 percent of the graduates of the Montana Family Medicine Residency have stayed in Montana.
“This has the opportunity to impact people’s lives across the state,” Schneeman said.
Suicide prevention also is being taught for the first time to students enrolled in the Master of Physician Assistant Studies Program at Rocky Mountain College. Most PAs work in primary care, said Mike Yorgensen, program coordinator.
"This is something our students need," Yorgensen said. "They really embraced it."