Mountains rise to greet the day, inspiring us to do the same in the amazing state of Montana. It can’t be denied, we are fortunate to live in a place with open spaces, winding rivers, and plentiful wildlife. This ideal beauty holds an ugly truth, however, depression and suicide have shockingly powerful pull on our state and our young people.
In the U.S, suicide in the 10th most common killer, and the third among people ages fifteen to twenty-five, according to a 2010 American Association of Suicidology report. One person kills themselves every 13.7 seconds, and this rate is rising. In 2010, 38,364 people committed suicide. Montana’s suicide rate has ranked in the top five states in the nation for thirty years, according to the 2010 Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services report. It usually ranks in the first three spots. MSU alone has had forty-one suicides. Four were committed last school year alone and three attempts were recorded in a single weekend.
Seventy-seven percent of Montana suicides in 2010 were men. Women attempt suicide at a rate three times higher than men, but men are four times as likely to complete suicide. The reasons behind this are complex. Brian Kassar, a professor and counselor at the MSU Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), explains, “Men tend to chose more violent means, like firearms or their automobiles. Men are typically less likely to seek help or counseling, so their depression, substance abuse, or personal crisis can get very intense and contribute to the hopelessness that leads to completed suicides.”
This statement is backed up by MSU-specific statistics provided by a 2006 study. According to this study, 31 percent of MSU men are not aware of the on-campus counseling services. Maybe more strikingly, of those who said they would not use a counseling service, forty-four percent said their reason was they did not want to appear weak. As Cindy Uken of the Billings Gazette reported, “Even when (men) can get help, they tend to ‘cowboy up,’ afraid their illness will be seen as weakness.”
MSU’s Counseling & Psychological Services currently offers free and confidential counseling. Kassar commented that, in regards to men, “CPS sees many men in counseling and provides ‘male friendly’ services. Over half the students I see are men, and I train the staff on how to work effectively with men. The guys who come in often report being surprised about how helpful it is and how comfortable it felt once they got over their initial discomfort.” They also offer both CPS and QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training throughout the semester to teach about suicide prevention.
ASMSU vice president Lukas Smith is also concerned about this issue on campus. He commented that, even among friends, where women are more likely to discuss emotion, men are more likely to turn away. The strict and impossible gender norms people are expected to live up in our culture can make it more difficult for men to seek help than women. Smith is looking for other ways to address this issue, and is seeking student opinion on the subject. There has been discussion of creating a Men’s Center on campus to deal with men’s health issues and suicide prevention.
A suicide prevention center on campus is a needed asset to the MSU community. The evidence shows there needs to be a program that focuses on men’s health at such a center, due to their higher risk. That being said, it should not be forgotten that women still attempt suicide at a higher rate than men. Their issues with depression and self-harm should not be discounted because their attempts are less likely to be completed. Women clearly need support as well when it comes to suicide prevention. Furthermore, according to Clara Moskowitz in her article on transgender suicide rates, 41 percent of Transgender people attempt suicide. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center also reports between 30 and 40 percent of LGBT youth attempt suicide.
Additionally, if ASMSU and the student body want to be more involved in prevention it would make more sense to collaborate with the CPS which is already doing this work. A boot in funding, staff and student involvement would help address this issue without having to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps the most influential thing students could do is start talking about these issues with their friends and loved ones. Culture may shape us, but we create culture through our every day actions. It may seem insignificant, but asking questions and promoting a non-judgemental atmosphere can save lives. This is the first step towards making MSU a safer, more supportive place for all students.
Have an idea for what MSU could do to deal with the situation?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts with Lukas Smith.
Want to more about counseling services on campus?
visit montana.edu/wwwcps or call (406) 994-4531
In crisis or need help?
Call the 24-Hour MSU Counseling and Psychological Services hotline at (406) 586-3333
It’s free and anonymous and screens for depression, anxiety, and substance use problems: http://mentalhealthscreening.org/screening/MontanaStateUniv