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Suicide Rate In Flathead County More Than Doubles National Rate

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FLATHEAD COUNTY -

The 2012-2013 Community Health Needs Assessment reveals, along with a high teen pregnancy rate, that Flathead county suffers from a large number of suicides.

The rate in the Flathead is more than double the national rate, and ranks toward the top of the list in Montana.

In the United States, about twelve people for every 100,000 commit suicide.

The 2012-2013 health assessment found that is doubled in Flathead county.

Twenty-two years ago, this became more than a statistic for Jolie Fish.

"He and Wendy were sitting on the couch crying and my first assumption was perhaps I was going to be a grandmother, a little earlier than I had expected... What they told me was far more tragic," said Jolie.

Her 18-year-old son, Douglas, admitted he was having suicidal thoughts.

"Regardless of the fact that I'm a social worker and I had knowledge, head knowledge, of suicide I still--the biggest myth: he won't do it," she explained.

Jolie kept this admission a secret while Douglas went into therapy, until he shot himself in the head after his girlfriend broke up with him. Now Jolie shares her story around the Valley, even though high schools would not hear of it two decades ago.

"The cost of care and the stigma attached to mental health services is huge and that stops a lot of people," said Joan Schmidt with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Schmidt leads a support group called SOLAS, Surviving Our Loss After Suicide.

Some blame the state's culture.

"We're very much a pull yourself up by your own bootstraps culture. Reaching out for help can be seen as a weakness, and that is something we really want to work on," said Diane Conti, the director of the Kalispell Adult Mental Health Center.

"Mental health resources are significantly under funded in Montana," said Joe Russell, a health officer for Flathead county.

Russell thinks the county could be doing a lot more to address the issue.

"We think some of the better things we could do is focus on some of those primary prevention interventions that could happen in four, five, six, seven-year-olds," said Russell.

Everyone seems to agree that just talking about it is half the battle.

"Feeling comfortable about asking that question, realizing that you're not planting the seed. You're not going to give somebody an idea of taking their own life when you ask them. You're providing them relief," said Schmidt.

Jolie continues to ask that tough question.

"I don't think there's been one of them that I have not had the experience of someone recognizing that they were having a problem and coming to me," said Jolie.

Several suicide survivors will be sharing their stories in an open meeting this Saturday, November 23 at the Columbia Falls Badrock fire station. Everyone is welcome beginning at 3:00 p.m.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, or know of someone who is, you can call the crisis line any time at 406.752.6262. Last year they received nearly 1,400 calls.

SOLAS meets the first Tuesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. in The Summit conference room.

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