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Myriad efforts are under way throughout Montana to combat the state’s runaway suicide rate, all of which are aimed at raising awareness and equipping more people to identify those who are suicidal.

For the past four decades, Montana has ranked in the top five states with the highest suicide rate in the nation, and in the past three years alone, at least 678 Montanans have killed themselves.

In a state with about 1 million people, on average there are about 15 attempted suicide every day. That is approximately 5,500 documented suicide attempts each year.

The statistics have attracted the attention of psychiatrists, physicians, clergy, state lawmakers and the governor as they study ways to reduce the number of residents taking their own lives.

The latest effort to combat the problem is the Fourth Annual Suicide Prevention Conference scheduled in Billings on Sept. 19. It is presented by the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Yellowstone Valley and is open to the public.

The annual workshops and combined community efforts are beginning to pay dividends, said Mike Yakawich, chair of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Yellowstone Valley.

“As a coalition we are making gains in collaborating and developing deeper partnerships,” Yakawich said. “We are providing avenues for education on this topic.”

The Coalition has developed materials, brochures and packets, established an active speakers bureau, created support groups, hosted conferences that have been cutting edge, all of which have drawn everyone from teachers to nurses and general citizens together to educate them on the facts of suicide and how to prevent it, Yakawich said.

The purpose of the September workshop is multifaceted, but includes exploring programs, services, resources and strategies available for suicide prevention and intervention. State and international experts will make presentations.

Participants will also learn QPR, a nationally recognized suicide prevention course.

The workshop is one of two public conferences scheduled in less than three months. The Second Annual Montana Conference on Suicide Prevention will be held in Helena on June 27.

The conference is geared toward psychiatrists and other physicians, psychologists, therapists, nurses, physician’s assistants, advocates and everyday Montana citizens interested in preventing suicide.

Both efforts complement the work of the state’s Suicide Review Team, which began meeting in January to examine the reasons behind the public health crisis that has plagued the state. The team’s goal is to identify resources and interventions that can be used to reduce the rate.

The seven-member team, appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock, is spending the next three years focusing on the issue of suicide and making recommendations to the governor to help prevent more deaths.

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