How a community responds to a crisis indicates character and values. Our community has taken major steps to combat Montana’s suicide rate, which is twice the national average. On Sunday, people will join together for the Out of Darkness Walk to raise awareness about suicide prevention strategies.

Montana teens are one of several segments of the population with high rates of suicide. The 2017 Montana Youth Risk Behavior survey results indicate:

  • Percentage of high school students who have considered suicide is 20.8 — a 2 percent increase over 2015 survey data.
  • Nearly 40 percent of females and more than 22 percent of male high school students felt sad or hopeless every day for at least two weeks in a row.
  • Nearly 20 percent of females and more than 13 percent of high school students made a plan about how they would attempt suicide.
  • Almost 10 percent of the students indicated that they had attempted suicide in 2017.
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In Yellowstone County, several community responses are aimed at raising awareness of students’ mental health needs and increasing their resilience under stress. Those responses include:

  • QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. Like CPR trains people to provide first aid during a heart attack, QPR trains community members to respond to individuals in crisis. QPR gives people permission to broach the subject of suicide with a person they are concerned about. It dispels the myth that mentioning suicide will trigger a suicide, since evidence indicates the opposite.
  • PAX: Good Behavior Game is used in grade school classrooms to develop resiliency in children by improving their ability to manage their own behavior. Those skills result in more productive teaching time and better coping skills in times of stress. In August, 45 teacher/counselors took the third session of PAX training. In Yellowstone County, students at Big Sky, Boulder, Orchard, Lockwood and Shepherd elementary schools have large numbers of K-3 teachers using the PAX techniques.
  • Signs of Suicide, a middle and high school prevention program, is the best example of community partners working together. Through a federal grant, the Healthy By Design Coalition got health professionals and educators talking about adverse childhood experiences and how trauma-informed care could lessen the impact of those negative experiences. After seeking guidance from a range of medical and social service providers, School District 2 chose to incorporate SOS training for sixth- and ninth-grade students. SOS combines depression awareness and suicide prevention and encourages students to seek help for themselves and for their friends. The curriculum engages parents and school staff as partners in prevention and encourages community-based partnerships to support student mental health.

In addition to working with students and teachers, ongoing efforts continue to train family medicine residents and physician assistant students about how to recognize and respond to the warning signs of suicide. As a community, we will continue to work together on these and other efforts to decrease Montana’s public health crisis of suicide.

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Claire R. Oakley, Ph.D, MHA, Director of Population Health Services, can be reached at 651-6462 or Claire.oak@riverstonehealth.org