KALISPELL — A drastic uptick in youth suicides in Kalispell is leaving a community searching for answers.
Flathead County Sheriff Brian Henio tells MTN News that seven teenagers attending either Flathead or Glacier High School have completed suicide since May of 2020
“You know that’s the unfortunate part about suicide prevention is we don’t have a good answer to the “why” question and I understand that’s what the community wants right now, and I would love to have an answer to the “why” question right now,” Nate Chute Foundation Executive Director Kacy Howard noted.
A drastic increase in youth suicides is leaving families, friends and school relationships forever changed. “Suicide is incredibly complex; all of these kids are different,” said Howard.
The Nate Chute Foundation is a non-profit in Flathead County dedicated to suicide prevention. Howard said the group started in 1999 after her friend and Flathead High School student Nate Chute took his own life shortly after graduation.
“The Nate Chute Foundation has been working with Kalispell Public Schools and quite frankly with all of the school districts in the area on comprehensive suicide prevention, intervention and postvention plans for years, so there is good work being done in the community,” said Howard.
According to the 2019 Flathead County Youth Risk Behavior Survey, during the 12 months before the survey, 12.2% of Flathead County students in grades 9 through 12 had made one or more suicide attempts and 11.7% of seventh and eighth grade students.
Howard said now is the time for community members to get more involved in youth suicide prevention, attending workshops, and talking to students and teachers about preventative measures.
“And that’s what I would encourage of our community right now, is people wondering what to do, get involved in prevention efforts that are happening, find out what’s already happening in our community,” added Howard.
She said the foundation has partnered with Kalispell schools to bring in Dr. Scott Poland, a national expert in suicide prevention. Dr. Poland will hold training for high school and middle school staff and community members from Sept. 27 to Sept. 29.
“He’s as good as it gets to help us try to understand the why and how do we move forward from here,” added Howard.
Howard said openly talking about suicide and mental health is critical to awareness and prevention.
“And I say this all the time in almost every presentation I give, as complex as it is, the simplest way we can boil this down is about human connection, we just have to show up to listen, to hold space and to show care to the people that we love and that we’re concerned about.' - Nate Chute Foundation Executive Director Kacy Howard
The Flathead Valley Out of the Darkness Walk, an annual event aimed at preventing suicide runs from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 26, starting at the Gateway Community Center in Kalispell.
If you or someone you know is dealing with emotional pain or suicidal thoughts, dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text “Hello” to 741741, which is the Crisis Text Line. More resources can be found here.