For many of us, Montana is a magical place filled with natural beauty, enchanting wildlife and caring communities. With all the charm of our idyllic environment, we may not be aware of the ominous undercurrent of emotional suffering afflicting a casual acquaintance, close friend or even our children. Montana’s high suicide rate may be just another impersonal national statistic to many; but for some of our neighbors, it is a reflection of the darkness of depression that is endured every day.
Suicide is a consequence of intolerable emotional pain. Many suicide attempts are impulsive acts and half of all suicide deaths are caused by firearms. Severe emotional pain can cause debilitating conditions such as distorted thought processes and tunnel vision which impairs problem solving and clear thinking. Depression and emotional pain also can result in extreme exhaustion which diminishes the ability to seek help. A person suffering from depression just doesn’t have enough energy to reach out, even if they have the motivation.
Since 2007, suicide rates in Montana have been climbing at a significantly higher rate than in the previous 40 years. Even more tragic is the increase in youth suicide rates. Nearly one in seven junior high students in Montana reported attempting suicide in the last twelve months. Students who attempted suicide often have other life problems such as bullying, drinking, drug abuse and abusive home environments. Depression is one of the most treatable of all psychiatric disorders for young people. A combination of antidepressants and therapy has been shown to have an 86% success rate.
If you suspect that a friend or family member may be suffering emotional pain, the first step is recognizing that the problem exists. Warning signs are given by 70-80% of people who die by suicide. Some of the primary warning signs are purposelessness, alcoholism, anxiety, hopelessness, withdrawal, anger, recklessness and mood changes. The most obvious warning sign is expressions of self-harm or seeking methods of self-harm. Social factors that are highly correlated with suicide are social isolation, social disorganization, downward social mobility and rural residency.1
Talking with your friend or family member about their feelings in a warm, accepting, non-judgmental atmosphere might be the best way to help them. “Suicide” is not a taboo word and asking about it might just prevent it. Asking someone whether they are having suicidal thoughts is a good way to directly approach the issue.
How you can help –
Offer help in finding mental health resources
Urge the person to visit a mental health professional
Propose accompanying the person to their appointment
Listen and follow-up
Suicide can be prevented! Helping create a break in a person’s emotional pain can give them the opportunity for empowerment and resilience. Interrupting the emotional pain, even temporarily, can provide an opening to explore problem solving and life changes. When someone is contemplating suicide, realizing that they are not alone, that there are people who care and will help, can generate personal strength and hope.
Professional help is essential in treating depression. The Madison County Mental Health Advisory Council has compiled a list of mental health and substance abuse treatment resources available in Southwest Montana. A link to the list can be found on the bottom of the web pages at www.RVMC.org and on the Madison County Public Health web page under “Mental Health Resources”. You’ll find contact information for mental health professionals in the Ruby Valley, Ennis, Dillon, Butte and Bozeman. Care is also available at the Ruby Valley Clinic in Sheridan. Appointments are readily available. Medication can be prescribed, if necessary. Come in to talk. Your community cares about you. People change their lives every day. There is always hope.