Say it out loud: Suicide is a public health crisis in the city of Missoula and the state of Montana.
Already this year, 25 people have taken their lives in Missoula, slightly more than in previous years. Montana’s suicide rate is double the national average.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Heidi Kendall, suicide prevention specialist for the Missoula City-County Health Department.
Kendall and others thanked the Missoula City Council Monday night for supporting a budget increase that will bump her position to full time.
The occasion was Suicide Prevention Week, but the effort is a round-the-clock, round-the-calendar one.
“We are here to spread the message that suicide is never the only option,” said Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of United Way of Missoula County and chair of Project Tomorrow Montana.
“We need to talk about suicide,” Patrick told City Council members. Too long, Montana’s crisis has been in the shadows, rarely mentioned, off limits in many venues.
That’s at least part of the reason why Montana has ranked among the top 5 states nationally for its suicide rate for each of the past 35 years. No one talked about it, not even the thousands of surviving, grieving family members and friends.
No more, said Ellen Leahy, director of the Missoula City-County Health Department. “Suicide is a public health crisis.”
The other side of the coin? “It is the most preventable form of death,” said Patrick. And yet, the numbers keep increasing.
Then there’s this: In Missoula and statewide, suicide is a crisis that usually involves a gun.
Of the 25 suicides so far this year in Missoula, 72 percent were by firearm.
“We do need to mention that because we need to encourage people to be careful with their firearms and to store them safely so they are not accessible to people who might be in a crisis,” said Kendall. “It’s an important message.”
Nationwide, 51 percent of all suicides are by firearm; statewide, that figure is 64 percent. Guns stored in the home are used for suicide 40 times more often than they are used for self-defense.
A number of activities are planned this week in Missoula. Among them:
- Tuesday, Sept. 12: “Catching Your Breath: Tools for Grief,” 6:30-7:45 p.m., Tamarack Grief Resource Center, 405 S. First St. W.
- Wednesday, Sept. 13: Free Film: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” an Academy Award-winning film, 7 p.m., Roxy Theater, 718 S. Higgins Ave.
- Thursday, Sept. 14: Free QPR class on suicide prevention, 5 p.m., Missoula Family YMCA, 3000 S. Russell St.
- Thursday, Sept. 14: Free performance: ‘The Sun as My Witness” by Kevin Kicking Woman, 7 p.m., Salvation Army, 355 S. Russell St.
- Friday, Sept. 15, Free conference on suicide prevention: Dr. Blair Davison, 7:30-8:30 a.m., Providence St. Patrick Conference Center, 500 W. Broadway. More information on the week’s activities is available online at this link.
According to Project Tomorrow Montana, these signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide. The risk is greater if a behavior is new or has recently increased in frequency or intensity, and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.
- Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
- Looking for ways to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to other
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated or behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated in social situations
- Displaying extreme mood swings
If you notice any of these signs and would like to talk with an expert, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at #800-273-TALK (8255).