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Mental health experts hold suicide prevention panel at Capitol

Posted at 9:54 AM, Feb 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-15 14:42:37-05

HELENA – The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) in partnership with mental health experts hosted a suicide prevention panel on Thursday at the Capitol.

Officials provided information on current evidence-based suicide prevention programs including standardized screening, Montana Native suicide reduction efforts and youth-specific mental health awareness.

“We all know there’s been progress and there’s been a shift in how we’re talking about suicide and working together and collaborating,” said DPHHS Deputy Director Laura Smith.

“In the end, if we want to address this issue we need to invest in evidence-based solutions, have sustainable programs and have the ability to continuously evaluate them.,” she added.

Each program showcased at the event was funded by House Bill 118 from the 2017 Montana Legislature which provided $1 million in funds for prevention efforts across the state.

At the beginning of the panel, Kim Spurzem with the Center for Children, Families and Workforce Development explained the state’s current suicide statistics.

“We have 25.9 Montanans that die for every 100,000 people and that’s twice the rate of the national average of folks that die by suicide,” noted Spurzem, “Suicide is actually the second leading cause of death for individuals 10 to 44 [years old] in the state.”

Spurzem said it’s still early to get a lot of the metrics from the new programs, but organizations have already seen steps in the right direction.

“We’ve seen an increase in help seeking, which is definitely something we have not seen before in the state of Montana,” said Spurzem. “Moving forward I think one of the greatest things we can do is continue to collaborate and partner with each other and find new ways to leverage our resources.”

Panelists also urged lawmakers to continue funding suicide prevention efforts stating there is a lot more work before to be done with suicide prevention.

Lisa Benevides, Behavioral Health Director of the Helena Indian Alliance, said HB 118 has given them the ability to have a bigger impact on Native American youth.

Benevides said that Native American youth in the Helena community can face unique challenges including isolation and a feeling of disconnection to their culture and family.

“It takes the community all working together, not only for the Native American culture but all of our kinds in general, “ said Benevides.

Panelists agreed that a joint community approach, with multiple agencies addressing different groups needs is a preferred outlook for the state’s suicide prevention efforts.

“The approach to reducing suicides in Montana requires long term commitment and long term vision,” said Eric Arzubi, MD with Billings Clinic.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts please reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

-John Riley reporting for MTN News