Mental health care providers, advocates and citizens have been invited to attend the 10e Annual Friday Suicide Prevention Conference at Butte High School.
From 7:30 a.m. booths for conference sponsors were set up with information material for attendees, with presentations beginning in the auditorium at 8 a.m.
Jennifer Preble of the AFSP kicked off the list of speakers, noting that the AFSP is “all volunteer work.” She pointed to a photo on the projector screen of volunteers from the Montana chapter, saying, “These are all people who have been affected by suicide or the loss of a suicide.”
The conference follows the setting up of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline on July 16, a number similar to how people call 911 for a medical emergency. 988 replaces the old longer 10-digit number.
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Montana has been among the top five states for the highest suicide rates in the nation for nearly 40 years.
The most recent report available online from the state’s Suicide Mortality Review Team, from 2016, cited several reasons for this.
“Access to lethal means (firearms), alcohol, feeling of being a burden, social isolation, altitude, undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, lack of resilience and coping skills, and a social stigma against depression, all contribute to the long-running, cultural problem of suicide in Montana,” according to the report.
Montana has a high rate of gun ownership, and 63% of all suicides in the state involve a gun, compared to a national average of about half. Sixty-three percent of Montana youths who committed suicide used a firearm, compared to a national average of 39 percent.
According to a research paper from the Center for Children, Families, and Workforce Development at the University of Montana, rural areas have a much higher suicide rate than more urban areas, at 20 percent. 100,000 in rural areas compared to 11.1 per 100,000 in urban areas. .
Montana also has the highest risk of veteran suicides, at a rate of 68 per 100,000, compared to 17 per 100,000 nationally. In 2016, a quarter of suicides in Montana were among veterans.
Between 2005 and 2014, suicide was the second leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14, adolescents aged 15 to 24 and adults aged 25 to 44, according to the report.
Dr. Len Lantz – a psychiatrist – who founded the conference, spoke after Preble, detailing how the conference started and how it has evolved since then.
Lantz said “good local journalism” is the seed that planted the idea for the conference. In 2012, Cindy Uken of the Billings Gazette wrote an award-winning series about suicide in Montana.
“You know, our problem with suicide is real,” Lantz said. “And I already knew Montana had a high suicide rate, but reading these articles made me angry.”
Because he already ran the Montana Psychiatry Conference, he had leadership skills and management experience. Since there was no statewide suicide prevention conference at the time, he decided to start one.
The first was in 2013, and in 2016 the AFSP of Montana got involved. In 2019, Lantz’s daughter and wife brought it to his attention that both conferences were taking up too much of his time, so he handed over to AFSP to host her.
In 2020, when the organization was supposed to host the conference for the first time, COVID hit, so it shifted gears and hosted it virtually. It was also virtual in 2021.
This was the first year that the AFSP organized the conference in person.
After Lantz, many speakers spoke on a variety of topics, from suicide risks to “crucial transitions” throughout life, such as the transition from active military service, high school to college, or retirement.
Speakers also spoke about the new 988 line, the Zero Suicide American Indian Grant, the Montana Suicide Prevention School Screening Program, and the prevalence of suicide among veterans.
There was also a round table and trainings. Vendors who attended the entire conference earned 5.75 continuing education units to spend on their license.
During the 2021 legislative session, a proposal to spend $1 million on suicide prevention efforts, similar to a proposal included in Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s budget, but with a different source of funding, was defeated. .
— The Lee Montana State Office contributed to this report.