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Montana public health officials address suicide prevention and awareness

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young adults
Posted: 3:11 PM, Aug 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-23 19:11:58-04

GREAT FALLS —

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, suicide now exceeds car crashes as the number one cause of injury-related deaths in the nation.

It is the second leading cause of death among young adults ages 15 to 24.

It's estimated that one in twelve college students has made a suicide plan and more than 1,100 college students will follow through with taking their lives in the U.S. annually.

But public health officials say Montana saw the second-largest increase in call volumes to crisis lines last year, a 43% jump from the year before.

“The people that call me and call our line are not weak- they’re probably some of the strongest people we have out there,” said Voices of Hope Director Jackie Gittins. “’Because it takes guts to call.”

She says a conversation can make the difference between life and death: “Getting that emergency that threat of somebody’s life on the line immediately off the table.”

Voices Of Hope answers crisis calls from over 40 counties in Montana and also operates a national hotline: “Sixteen to 20, as high as 24% of calls we receive are directly related to suicide,” she said.

And while economies and geography vary by county, the reality and pain of suicide is shared by many statewide.

“Doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, live in the city, live in the country - it doesn’t matter,” she said. “It can happen to anyone at any time.”

Suicide also affects every age group but continues to be a growing threat to the younger generation.

“Young adults (ages)15-24; nationally up 200% in the last half century,” said DPHHS Suicide Prevention Coordinator Karl Rosston.

Both Gittins and Rosston says a lack of coping skills and learned resiliency are big factors unique to young adults and suicide.

“College kids that go to college and they’re not succeeding like they did in high school or in their smaller communities” she said. “And now they feel like a failure.”

Rosston also says social media affects youth in a different way.

“Their self-worth is now based on how many likes they get for a picture they post instead of their relationships with other people”

People serving in the military are often also fighting an uphill battle.

“We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy,” said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright in a video earlier this month addressing suicide rates. “even more than combat.”

Wright continued to say in the video that as of August 1st, 78 airmen had taken their own lives - nearly 30 more than had died by suicide during the same period last year. “Seventy-eight teammates,” he said. “That’s 78 wingmen that’s 78 spouses that’s 78 brothers and sisters and sons and daughters. 78.”

In response to this year’s rising rates, officials have ordered all Air Force units to "stand down" for one day to focus on resiliency and suicide prevention (scroll down to watch video).

While experts are seeing an increase in the number of suicides, they’re also seeing more people reach out for life-saving help.

“On our text line, we saw a 105% increase in last 3 years,” said Rosston. “And 80% of them were under the age of 24.”

The need for resources continues to grow; Gittins says call volumes in their office are up 23% from last year.

She says simply getting a caller in crisis to open up about suicidal thoughts can be life changing. “Is that really want you to do or is the pain just so harsh right now?” she said. “What can we do to alleviate the pain?”

Voices Of Hope Hotline number: 453-4357, or 211. Suicide mobile info: text ‘MT’ to 741741.

Click here for MT DPHHS Suicide Prevention & Resources .

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