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Montana Communities Receive State Funding For Community-Based Suicide Detection and Prevention

Jackie Yamanaka

The Bullock Administration awarded $372,000 to nine community organizations, health care providers, and schools to fund suicide prevention efforts. The money will be used to expand existing programs or to launch new evidence-based efforts.

Governor Steve Bullock announced the grant awards at Stillwater Billings Clinic in Columbus.

Bullock said he wants Montana to be a leader in so many areas, but not for suicide. Montana’s suicide rate has been at or near the top in the nation for nearly 4 decades.

“The problem is these are not just statistics and we should never blind ourselves to that. These are real people,” Bullock said. “People of all ages, in all parts of Montana, family members, loved ones, neighbors and students. Suicide has broken the hearts of so many on reservations.”

He said Montana is fortunate to have so many passionate and talented professionals working on this issue. 

One of the grants was awarded to Billings Clinic. The Billings-based hospital will spread its $107,000 award from the state among its 11 affiliated Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) across Eastern Montana.

  • Beartooth Billings Clinic in Red Lodge
  • Stillwater Billings Clinic in Columbus
  • Livingston Healthcare
  • Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown
  • Wheatland Memorial Healthcare in Harlowton
  • Glendive Medical Center
  • Sheridan Memorial Hospital in Plentywood
  • Daniels Memorial Hospital in Scobey
  • Roundup Memorial Hospital
  • Pioneer Medical Center in Big Timber
  • Colstrip Medical Center.

Dr. Eric Arzubi is a child and adolescent psychiatric and heads the Department of Psychiatry at Billings Clinic. He says the funding will standardize suicide screening across its network through the use of an app developed by the University of Vermont.
Billings has tested this electronic screening tool that replicates the judgment of a skilled psychiatrist in screening a patient with suicidal ideation.

“We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing the last 40 years because we’ll keep getting the same results,” says Dr. Arzubi. “So one of the things we’re trying to do is think outside the box, using evidence based approaches but thinking outside the box and doing things differently.”

Emergency department personnel at Billings Clinic’s 11 CAH’s will screen every adult patient, 18 and older. Those patients who score moderate or high for likelihood of suicide will be referred for appropriate care.

He expects 20,000 people will be screened over the next year.

Money for this effort was included in the Governor’s budget proposal and passed by lawmakers in the form of House Bill 118 during the 2017 Montana legislative session. The bill includes several elements, including $250,000 to address and reduce suicide among Native American youth. All programs eligible for funding must be based on peer-reviewed research or recommended by the Montana Suicide Review Team.

“With this additional support for ongoing efforts and for new, innovative solutions proven to be effective, I’m confident we are moving in the right direction and that we can prevent future tragedies,” said Bullock.

The Bullock Administration also has a Montana Mental Health Ombudsman to help residents find services.

Credit MT Department of Public Health and Human Services

Below is a full list of grant recipients:

  • Billings Clinic received $107,000 to implement a community-based suicide detection and prevention program in 11 eastern Montana Critical Access Hospital emergency departments.
  • Flathead City-County Health Department received $63,000 to implement several suicide prevention efforts including training on the Question, Persuade, Refer program, mental health first aid, and an introduction to ACEs training.
  • The District II Alcohol and Drug Prevention Program (Glendive/Sidney) received $63,000 to implement the STEP UP program (Strategies and Tools Embrace Prevention with Upstream Programs). The program is an evidence-based program for middle-school students aimed to promoting positive mental health, building emotional competence, and a safe school climate. The counties to be served include Blaine, Philips, Daniels, Sheridan, Garfield, Roosevelt, Richland, McCone, Prairie, Wibaux and Dawson.
  • Tamarack Grief Resource Center (TGRC) received $47,000 to coordinate/facilitate suicide prevention activities for schools, businesses, community organizations, trauma survivors, and Veteran populations throughout the region integrating prevention training and suicide postvention support. Community suicide prevention workshops utilizing the Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) program will be offered at no cost to participants. This funding will also help TGRC provide support for suicide loss survivors, train educators and care providers on postvention best practices, and facilitate school-based activities including SOS (Signs of Suicide) throughout western Montana including Browning, Heart Butte, Arlee, and Columbia Falls.
  • Missoula County Public Schools received $41,000 to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game to kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students in selected Missoula County Public School District’s elementary schools.
  • RiverStone Health received $20,000 to train elementary school teachers and administrators in Yellowstone, Wibaux, and Carbon counties on the PAX Good Behavior Game.
  • Helena School District to receive $15,000 to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game.
  • Jefferson County School District received $15,000 to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game in all first, second, and third grade classrooms. 
  • Lockwood School District to receive $1000 in funds to implement several evidence-based programs, including Riding the Waves program for 4th Graders; Look, Listen, Link curriculum for 5th graders and the Signs of Suicide (SOS) program for 6th-8th graders.