Suicide prevention grows more important in Montana

State Suicide Prevention Coordinator presents about prevention in Libby and Troy
By Moira Blazi

Karl Rosston, LCSW, Montana’s State Suicide Prevention Coordinator begins his presentations and his handouts with this quote from Martha Manning, “Depression is such a cruel punishment, there are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern, just the slow erosion of self, as insidious as cancer. And like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience; a room in hell with only your name on the door.”
Our country sees an average of 23 suicides per day, one every 11 minutes. This is just one of the shocking statistics about suicide included in Rosston’s free presentation, held last Thursday, at the K.W. Maki Theater. The talk was aimed at educating and encouraging average people to help prevent suicide.
Using the QPR model: question, persuade, refer, he covered how to recognize the signs of potential suicide, and he outlined ways the average person can really help.
Montana, said Rosston, is squarely in the rocky mountain “perfect storm” area for suicide. In fact, our state is now ranked second in number of suicides per capita, and is expected to be number one next year.
Many factors contribute to this, including lack of vitamin D (due to lack of sunlight), omega 3, and magnesium in our diets, isolation, and high rates of alcohol consumption. Higher elevation also is a factor, it causes the body to produce less serotonin, he said. In rural areas of Montana, poverty and unemployment, lack of mental health resources, and of course easy access to firearms are also significant factors. 63% of Montana suicides involve a firearm.
Another often-ignored factor of concern is the stigma that mental health problems carry in our rural western culture. Needing help can be considered a sign of weakness, he said, and the deep-seated independence of Montanans who don’t want to be a burden on others doesn’t help either. Over 80% of suicide victims in Montana are middle-aged and older white men, Rosston said. Warning signs of someone who is at risk for suicide were also discussed. These include purposelessness, withdrawal, change in personal hygiene, and reckless behavior. Rosston said to take these signs seriously using persistent communication with those who seem at risk. He said that friends and family should keep asking even if the person says they are fine a thousand times. The most important thing, he said, is simply to let people know you care about them.
He then addressed misconceptions about suicide including the notion that bringing it up will plant the idea. He said that addressing the subject directly with someone who seems at risk is a good thing. It can validate that person’s feelings.
It is false that no one can stop suicide, Rosston said, and he reminded the group that there are many resources available right here in Libby through Jennifer McCully and the county health department. There are also a plethora of statewide suicide prevention resources available online.
Rosston also presented at Troy Schools last Thursday and in Eureka on Friday.