Montana Jumps From 1st to 4th in Suicide Rates

Maggie Vann, Reporter

     Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and today, the suicide rate is the highest it has been in 50 years. Montana has been the number one state in the US for suicide deaths for multiple years. However, just this year, it has jumped to fourth, with New Mexico leading in suicide deaths, Wyoming in second and Alaska in third, according to the American Association of Suicidology. 

     There are many reasons Montana has been the number one state in deaths from suicide in the past. Montana’s lack of sun and inversions, especially in the winter, is one of the main factors. It can lead to seasonal depression which is more likely to result in suicidal thoughts. Other factors include access to firearms, seclusion from other people, and even altitude. Although these factors haven’t changed, Montana schools have been working on spreading awareness of suicide along with giving students multiple recources to ask for help


Ali Caudle
Hellgate’s Family Resources adviser is always available if you want to talk

   All Montana schools have the SOS program, or Signs Of Suicide program. It is a curriculum incorporated into health class. Its goal is to reduce suicide risk among students and educate them about the issue. The students spend almost a full school week looking at suicide with the SOS curriculum. Heather Cheney, Health and Physical Educationteacher at Hellgate, said, “There are definitely more outreaches from students because of the program.” 

     Cheney said, “There are all sorts of increases of anxiety and depression among teens and tweens specifically. So we are trying to normalize and make the conversation easier so that people know how to ask for help and what signs and symptoms to look for among themselves and others.” Cheney has been working to take the stigma away from mental health issues and educate students on how to ask for help.

     Hellgate High School also has multiple resources that students can use if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts, depression or anxiety. These include school counselors, blue cards, the school psychologist, and the family resources program. Tracy Ledyard, Hellgate’s family resources coordinator said, “More students are coming to adults to say they are worried about their friends,” and Hellgate has incorporated “more avenues that they (students) can tell us these things.” 

     Montana has been doing a good job at putting a lot of educational practices in place and making suicide important and relevant, said Cheney. There hasn’t been a suicide at Hellgate in around four years, which is a signifigant improvement. Ledyard said that she thinks adults underestimate, “How often kids talk about it (suicide) and think about it. So I think that adults are constantly shocked and taken aback.” 

     According to Hellgate High School’s psychologist, Camille Barraclough, there are multiple courses of action that students can take when they notice a friend or classmate going through hard times. “I believe giving the student uninterrupted time, listening carefully to their distress and validating how they feel, asking direct questions about suicidality and communicating with the student’s family are the basic steps involved when supporting someone who is feeling suicidal.” Barraclough also wanted to stress how important psychoeducation is. “I believe the more students know about mental health, suicidality, risk factors, and coping skills, the more likely they will be able to seek help when/if they need it,” said Barraclough

     The American Association of Suicidology estimates that there is one suicide attempt every 26 seconds and one person actually commits suicide every 10.9 minutes. “Although it is positive that we are no longer the state with the highest number of suicides per capita, we have a long way to go before we can move our attention away from the issue. The more open we are as a community/state about our struggles the more likely people are to ask for help,” Barraclough explained. This relevant issue is one of the greatest in the nation, but there is a silver lining ahead as educational practices are being put into place to show how suicide really affects everyone.