HELENA — According to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services, one Montanan dies every 28 hours by suicide. DPHHS also reports that one Montanan dies every 54 hours due to gun-related suicide; compared to other states in the United States, that is four to eight times higher than states with enhanced firearm safety laws.
To help save lives, the Lewis & Clark Suicide Prevention Coalition and Lewis & Clark Public Health have rolled out the Safer Communities Montana program. Some of the key focuses are reducing access to lethal means, such as securing firearms and prescription drugs.
The agency website states: "Lethal means refers to any instrument or object that someone in crisis might use to take their lives (e.g., medication, firearms, bridges). According to the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health’s Means Matter Study, temporary 'Means reduction' (reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal means) is a powerful strategy in preventing these unnecessary deaths. If they do not have access to those instruments at the height of a suicidal crisis, individuals are much more likely to survive."
"Sixty-three percent of all suicides that occur in Montana involve a firearm, but we also know that 70 to 90 percent of suicide attempts nationally involve overdoses. So we want to try and get it from both angles to make sure that people are protected," said Jess Hegstrom, Suicide Prevention Coordinator for Lewis & Clark Public Health.
DPHHS also reported in 2019 that about 7.5% of Montana suicides involved prescription drugs.
Hegstrom added that Montanans need to be aware of the side effects of pills they are taking, such as suicidal ideation. "Learning their medication, if their pharmacist is aware, so that those things are locked up, so there isn't a possibility of a tragedy," she said.
Highlighting the importance of lethal means and securing both medication and firearms is essential in reducing the suicide rate.
"To make sure that people don't have access to means like firearms or medication when they are at that acute point of struggling. Because we know that most people the time to make an attempt and the actual attempt is five minutes to an hour," said Hegstrom.
Others in the community are also taking a stand, like business owner Ed Beall of Capital Sports in Helena; he explained, "I thought about how suicide has affected my life, and I have definitely people in my life that have encountered suicide."
Beall says that gun owners should store their firearms for safety and to demonstrate responsible gun ownership, "There are ways to store a firearm safely where they are still obtainable to you, for personal defense or in an emergency."
Additionally, Beall says there are several easy steps a gun owner can take, "There is a gun trigger lock, a cable lock, a cabinet or a safe, there is something that will work for you."
Tips for reducing access to prescription medicine:
- Keep all medication locked up, save for a one-week supply.
- If someone in your household is in a mental health crisis, limit access to one-day’s worth of Rx.
- Dispose of any leftover medication by dropping them off at a prescription disposal site.
- Ask your pharmacist to use a blister pack instead of a bottle for pills
- Ask your doctor to limit doses to a one-month supply
If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, contact the Montana Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; you can also text MT to 741741. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
NOTE: If you are experiencing an emergency (immediate danger of harm to self or others), please call 911.