ST. IGNATIUS - Montana has ranked in the top five for suicide-related deaths in the country for the last 30 years.
According to studies by the American Association of Suicidology, a few of the leading causes include vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to an increased risk of depression, high suicide among veterans, Native Americans, and middle-aged white males, and the overall culture and stigma around suicide.
It is also estimated that 10 million adults think about suicide each year, 1.2 million have a plan or a method and there are 750,000 attempted suicides every year. The numbers show that almost 49,000 people a year die by suicide.
The national average rate of suicide deaths sits at 14.5 per 100,000 but in Montana, those rates are 31.7 per 100,000. And, there is a suicide every 11.1 minutes in the United States.
There are steps and training that could help prevent suicide-related deaths, and for the first time, the St. Ignatius Police Department hosted a training that could save a life.
A father whose son committed suicide in 2018 now travels around Montana hosting free suicide prevention training in an effort to save lives. July 27, 2018, was a day that will forever change Fredrick Lee’s life — it’s the day that his son took his own life.
Since then, Lee and his wife Colleen have traveled around the state of Montana to provide free suicide prevention training with the program QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade, Refer.
The training allows for the stigma and culture regarding suicide and depression.
“We’ve had too many suicides in Montana because we’re not making depression and suicide awareness a conversation and that’s why my wife and I run around the state of Montana and encourage this to schools, community members, and first responders," Fredrick said. "Make depression and suicide a conversation today and it might save a life."
“If you ask any Montanan, they know somebody who committed suicide and there’s something wrong with that. And we as Montanans need to do better.” Fredrick noted.
Suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States and is the third leading cause for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
When it comes to ethnic groups, Native Americans have the highest rate of suicide at 37.4 per 100,000, followed by the white demographic with a rate of 26.4. Men have a higher rate (23.3) compared to women (5.9). Veterans — which make up 8.5% of the country's population — accounted for 18% of all deaths by suicide among adults.
Suicide can go hand and hand with substance abuse or alcohol abuse, and in the town of St. Ignatius, an ongoing spike in substance abuse and mental health crises led Chief of Police Jason Achenson to invite Lee to the town to give this training.
“We are in the middle of a substance abuse and addiction crisis. Hand and hand what goes with that is depression and suicide. We’re seeing a rise in mental health related issues not just locally, but state and nationwide," Chief Achenson said. "And I wanted to give the people of my community that they could use for themselves, easy to know, easy to learn tools to help somebody in need.”
For law enforcement, allowing access to resources such as these can be critical when responding to a call from a person planning to carry out their plan. Learning how to talk and listen can be the factor between life and death.
Chief Achenson took this training last year and the skills he learned have made an impact on how he responds to calls involving suicide.
“It helps me to be contentious on how I talk to people and communicate. I think a lot about my body language and interacting with them because I want to de-escalate the situation," he explained.
"I want them to come down a notch and let them know and feel that they don’t have to consider what they're doing They don’t have to make that decision of suicide and end their lives. Nobody has to die today and I want to prevent that from happening.” Chief Achenson continued.
If you or someone you know might be struggling with mental health, you can call 988, text MT or 741741, or call 911.