HELENA — Helena Public Schools and local advocates are highlighting the availability of resources, after a week in which two high school students died by suicide.
In a letter to families over the weekend, HPS Superintendent Rex Weltz said it had been a “traumatic week for our HPS school community,” because of these cases and a car crash that claimed the life of a former student and injured several current students.
District leaders said Monday that they are working at the school level to make sure all students know they can access support services if they need it.
“Above all, I want our students to know that our counselors, teachers and administrators are here for them,” Weltz said in his letter. “If you have a high school student in your life, let them know that they can visit their counseling center or let a teacher know if they’d like to see a counselor.”
The district is redirecting counseling staff from its K-8 schools to assist the high schools.
Weltz also urged everyone to respect the affected families and give them time to grieve.
Jess Hegstrom, suicide prevention coordinator for Lewis and Clark Public Health, said many people who lose a loved one to suicide don’t get the support they need because of stigma.
“Losing someone to suicide is a really difficult journey,” she said. “It can lead to one of hope and meaning and purpose, but the first step is taking care of yourself.”
Hegstrom facilitates the Lewis and Clark Suicide Prevention Coalition, which has collected information on available resources for loss survivors on its website:
- The free Helena Area Suicide Bereavement Support Group, organized by the group “Breathe, Let’s Start a Conversation,” meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the St. Peter’s Health Administration Building.
- Charlie Health holds virtual support group meetings on the first and third Fridays of the month.
- Tamarack Grief Resource Center offers a variety of support services, including some directed specifically for teens.
You can find out more information on how to access these and other resources on the Coalition website.
This Saturday, Nov. 20, is also International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
“The whole goal of that event is to make sure that loss survivors feel like they’re not alone, to help them understand suicide better and to also understand how they can move forward in a positive manner,” Hegstrom said. “Suicide loss is certainly difficult, but there is life after loss and we want to be able to help people get to that point.”
That day is typically marked with a event at the State Capitol, but this year, it is being held online. If you are interested in participating, you can find more information here.
The Suicide Prevention Coalition has more resources on suicide loss and grief here.
Advocates also ask that anyone who is experiencing thoughts of suicide or has a friend who is struggling call the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-TALK (1 (800) 273-8255), or text “MT” to 741-741. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.