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MT Lawmakers Consider Boosting State's Suicide Prevention Efforts

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More than 230 Montanans died by suicide in 2020. (Pixel-Shot/Adobe Stock)
More than 230 Montanans died by suicide in 2020. (Pixel-Shot/Adobe Stock)
January 7, 2021

HELENA, Mont. -- Suicide takes a heavy toll on Montana.

In this session, lawmakers are considering efforts to strengthen the state's Suicide Prevention Program.

House Bill 70 is in front of the House Health and Human Services Committee today. It would modernize the prevention program and revise the state's suicide reduction plan.

Montana's suicide rate consistently has ranked among the highest in the nation.

Matt Kuntz, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Montana, said numbers had been improving in recent years.

"But with COVID, we're right back in the middle of some really challenging times," Kuntz explained. "So I do think it makes sense to look at what have we been doing right and how can we make sure that that effort stays consistent and strong in the years to come?"

There were more than 230 suicides in the state in 2020. The public can submit testimony online about the bill to the House Health and Human Services Committee until noon today.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Kenneth Holmlund, R-Miles City, who lost his son to suicide in 1989.

Suicides have hit Montana's rural areas hard. It also affects native youths disproportionately.

Kuntz noted that's why the bill lays out partnering with tribes.

"Montana's suicide reduction efforts do need to specifically look at protecting our native populations, especially our native youth," Kuntz asserted.

Nationally, Native American young people are nearly twice as likely to die by suicide than their Caucasian peers.

The bill also aims to bring suicide rates down among other groups, including veterans.

Kuntz vonfirmed suicide rates are high among veterans, who make up about a tenth of Montana's population; one of the largest shares in the country.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT