Here are two rankings no state should be proud to hold: Montana has the highest number of suicides per capita, and the highest number of suicides among veterans.
In Montana, more than 49 veterans out of every 100,000 die by suicide. The rate is far higher than the national rate of 29.7 for every 100,000 veterans. These alarming numbers highlight the need for, and value of, prevention efforts.
This year, Billings and Helena joined the national Mayor’s Challenge to prevent suicide among veterans, service members and their families. In Billings, the Mayor’s Challenge team chose to take some key steps that align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s strategies to prevent suicide.
- To promote community connectedness, the team added veteran and service member information to the local 211 resource database. The online directory, Montana211.org, connects individuals to a variety of resources related to physical and mental health, housing assistance, food and basic needs. For easy navigation, a single button brings up all resources available to veterans and service members.
- To help create protective environments, the team will encourage local employers to become more culturally aware in hiring, retaining and serving veterans, service members and their families. The City of Billings and RiverStone Health have begun the process of becoming “veteran certified” organizations through PsychArmor.com. Certification includes four educational videos to raise awareness of military culture. Once these worksites have completed the program, the team plans to recruit and encourage other employers to take the free training.
- To help identify and support people at risk, as well as teach coping skills, the team is making peer-to-peer connections through the social media app and website Meetup.com. After setting up a local community page, the team has hosted several events to bring people together, ranging from meeting to socialize at a park to playing table tennis at Rimrock Mall. We encourage you to join this group by visiting the Billings Veterans and Family Community Meetup page.
- The team has joined forces with the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Yellowstone Valley to increase life-saving skills though QPR — Question, Persuade, Refer. Just as people trained in CPR can help save lives, people trained in QPR learn to recognize and respond to potential warning signs. The Coalition also spearheads a secure firearms storage campaign to promote keeping firearms locked and unloaded. The coalition seeks opportunities to speak to community groups about both of these issues. Contact the group at spcoalitionyv.org.
The Mayor’s Challenge is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, working with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Other cities included in this year’s challenge include: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Houston; Las Vegas; Los Angles; Phoenix; and Richmond, Virginia. The local team includes members from agencies serving veterans, suicide prevention advocates, the City of Billings and those who have lost family members or friends to suicide.