Project Tomorrow seeks to prevent suicide - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Project Tomorrow seeks to prevent suicide

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A $10,000 gift from the Wells Fargo Foundation provides a robust fund to help with normalizing the process of getting help. A $10,000 gift from the Wells Fargo Foundation provides a robust fund to help with normalizing the process of getting help.

Since 2014, the Western Montana Suicide Prevention Initiative has helped those on the brink. Now, the program is debuting a new suicide prevention and public awareness campaign. 

The initiative is also growing with the help of community partnerships, and it's doing so under a new name.

Now calling itself Project Tomorrow, the organization is collaborating with city agencies, local businesses, the University of Montana and Missoula County Public Schools. Those involved say this is the first step toward choosing life and looking toward the future.

Suicide rates in Montana are nearly double the national average, according the department of health and human services.

"We've always been in the top five for decades,” explained United Way of Missoula County CEO Susan Hay Patrick. “Currently the suicide rate in Missoula is higher than the rest of the state."

Hay Patrick said that since 2014, there have been nearly 100 suicides in Missoula, 30 of which happened in 2016 alone. She explains Project Tomorrow's goal is to bring that number to zero, but to do that Montanans need to eliminate the stigmas surrounding mental health issues.

"We need to normalize getting help when we're feeling depressed just as we go to the doctor when we have a cold," said the United Way executive.

A $10,000 gift from the Wells Fargo Foundation provides a robust fund to help with that normalization, which Hays Patrick said begins with understanding exactly what depression is. 

Mike Frost, the director of counseling services at the Curry Health Center, describes depression as being trapped alone in dark room with no way out.

"And what's really key then is to invite somebody into that room because it's very lonely; it's miserable in that room,” Frost elaborated. “And to invite somebody into that room who can help you get to that light, get to that door to open that up because help is available. We can find the light. We can find that door. There is a way out."

Missoula Mayor John Engen is also on the Project Tomorrow leadership team. He said the initiative is a spark of hope.

"Just that notion that tomorrow is an option is incredibly compelling who is in the thick of it," Engen said.

Hay Patrick said for any large-scale healing to begin, suicide must be taken as seriously as any other health crisis.

"If any other single cause of death was taking about a hundred of our family members, friends, colleagues and coworkers over a three year period; if it were murder, if it were car accidents, if this single cause of death was inexplicably taking and tragically taking so many people we would declare it a public health crisis,” she said. “We would bring every possible resource to address it, and we would stop at nothing. And that is the same kind of level of passion and energy that we need to bring to suicide."

Hay Patrick believes that through working together, Missoula will overcome this health crisis.

If you or someone you know seeks training on how to help those suffering suicidal thoughts, Contact Missoula City-County Health Department's suicide prevention coordinator either by email or by phone. The number is 258-3881.

Likewise if you or someone you know is facing a mental health crisis, call the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text ‘MT’ to 741741.

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