Hearing Monday: Bill requires suicide prevention training for health-care providers

By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – A little less than half of the Americans who complete suicide visited their primary care providers within a month of their death, according to Montana’s Suicide Mortality Review Team’s 2016 report.

A bill is working its way through the Montana Legislature that would make it mandatory for health care providers to complete training in order to recognize signs a person is considering suicide, including nonverbal cues.  

Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls

Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls, is carrying  House Bill 71 and said it’s important to remember that only 23 percent of our communication is verbal.

“You have the remaining 77 percent that is nonverbal, and a lot of this is interpreting the communication as the assessment is being done,” McKamey said.

John Wilkinson represents a collaboration between the Montana chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and the Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors Association, both of which support the bill.

Wilkinson said at a hearing on Jan. 9 that whatever can be done, should be done.

“I don’t think that there’s any silver bullet out there. But, if there are more tools out there, and they are the most effective and perhaps can lead to more evidence that can result in some reduction, so much the better,” Wilkinson said.  

At the hearing, Wilkinson, along with Montana Association of Marriage and Family Therapists representative Abigail St. Lawrence, asked to include their groups in the bill.

“As long as we’re in it, we all want to be in it together,” Wilkinson said.

The bill would require health care providers to complete six hours of suicide prevention training over the span of five years. It is one of several bills introduced this legislative session to combat the state’s high rate of suicide.

The House passed the bill – sending it to the Senate for consideration – on a vote of 84 to 14. The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee hears the bill Monday.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.