Meeting aims to be call to action on suicide

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Montana is near the top of the list for a sad statistic. Among the 50 states, Montana ranks No. 2 in the nation for suicides.

Flathead County is among the top 100 counties in the country when it comes to suicide, Whitefish School District Superintendent Jerry House said.

There were 20 completed suicides last year, triple the number in 2007. There were countless more suicide attempts.

Last year the statistic hit home for House — twice. A Whitefish High School student and the spouse of a staff member both committed suicide. Their deaths prompted House to action.

“We started looking at suicide as a community,” House said.

He spoke with Carol Blake, who retired over the summer from North Valley Hospital, and Jason Spring, the hospital’s chief executive officer.

“We decided we wanted to put together a town hall meeting,” House said.

That meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Grouse Mountain Lodge.

In addition to the hospital and the school district, representatives from the clergy, mental health professionals, the city of Whitefish, Whitefish Fire and Police departments, Flathead Valley Suicide Prevention Coalition, Pathways Treatment Center and Tamarack Grief Resource Center will be on hand to present information and resources to community members.

“We all have ... I call them toolboxes,” House said. “At school we have a student-assistance program, quick response teams, an anti-bullying program and our curriculum. That’s in our toolbox.

“We all have resources in our toolbox. The problem is we haven’t connected the dots in our community.”

Thursday’s session will help people connect the dots between different toolboxes, whether they are struggling with depression and considering suicide themselves, know someone in crisis or maybe are dealing with grief.

The evening will cover prevention, intervention and what House calls “post-vention” — surviving loss.

“If somebody has a suicide or a sudden death ... we share the grief for two or three days, then the person is left alone,” he said.

After different agencies share information, those in attendance will be able to walk around and talk more in depth with various organizations. They will be able to ask questions and get more information than they might in a large-group setting.

“We want the public to be able to ask questions about it and take some things,” House said.

In addition to providing resources, the evening is intended to rouse people to action, he said.

“The whole idea is to make our public more aware but more, to do something with it,” he said.

He said he hopes the evening will help people realize anyone can help someone in crisis.

“Everybody’s qualified to talk, to communicate. You do not need a Ph.D. behind your name,” he said. People in crisis “just need to know there’s somebody they can trust.”

The event is free to attend. For further information, contact House at housej@wfps.k12.mt.us or 862-8640.

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