The Montana University System organized the first Statewide Summit on Suicide Prevention n Monday, Jan. 1. Local residents, health and education professionals as well as students were invited to come together to learn and share about the ways our community can work together to prevent suicide.
After the welcoming initiation, the crowd split off into small workshop groups. Workshop number one included a group focused on social media and suicide prevention. Erin Butts, the Statewide School for Mental Health coordinator for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, led the group. Butts created a safe and friendly environment where the group discussed current trends in social media, suicide prevention and mental health in higher education. “We live in a society where technology isn’t leaving, we need to teach positive internet use to promote positive connections,” a student from Missoula told the group. At the end of the session Butts told the group about a phone app that can be used as a resource for suicide prevention. The app is called “A Friend Asks,” and is sponsored by a suicide prevention group called the Jason Foundation. “A Friend Asks,” is a free app that shares information about what to say and do if someone you know, or you yourself, are struggling with thoughts of suicide.
“This is a community-wide responsibility,” Clinical Director Nance Roy of the Jed Foundation told the group after reassembling. Roy highlighted that on average, only 10 percent of enrolled students on college campuses use counseling centers and services. In hopes to “catch students who may be struggling,” she presented the idea of screening students for mental health when students go into college health centers. Roy emphasized that depression is not just a developmental issue, and that we cannot treat mental health as something that will simply pass over with time. “Not every student needs psychiatric therapy,” Roy spoke, “sometimes having someone that reaches out is enough.”
According to statistics presented by Roy, in the past year, 51 percent of students report having overwhelming anxiety at some point in school, 31 percent are “so depressed that it is difficult to function” and 7.5 percent report having “serious thoughts of suicide.” With statistics like these, Roy said, “it is important for our community to recognize that students will not always communicate their distress. Why do we believe that a student who is feeling hopeless, sad, isolated and exhausted will have the presence of mind to make a phone call to a stranger and lay bare his desolation?”
One goal of the Suicide Prevention Summit was the hope that our community will recognize our responsibility when it comes to mental health, and that with Montana having the highest suicide rates in the country according to the National Vital Statistics Report, it is important for our students to recognize that they are not alone. Roy concluded with her speech with “Let’s reach out to the students that sit in the back of the classroom and recognize those students that are marginalized or isolated.”
The Suicide Prevention Summit continued for two days. For more information their website and contact information can be found at montana.edu/suicidesummit.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255. Students are encouraged to visit our many on-campus services, including Counseling and Psychological Services: 406-994-4531.