Suicide Rates in Montana are Unacceptably High, Especially Among American Indians

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a month dedicated to promoting suicide prevention awareness across the country. For Montana, it’s especially relevant.

For almost forty years, Montana has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country. From 1999 to 2016, that rate grew by 38 percent, yet again making Montana the state with the highest suicide rate in the country. In 2016, Montana’s suicide rate of 29.2 (per 100,000 people) nearly doubled the national rate of 15.4.

Nationally, whites have the highest rate of suicide, followed by American Indians, but in Montana, this trend is reversed. Between 2014 and 2015, the American Indian suicide rate was 35.5 (per 100,000 people), compared to 28.1 for whites. And while death by suicide among non-American Indian populations peaks in older adults, death by suicide among American Indians peaks during youth and young adulthood.

Between 2016 and 2017, over 18 percent of American Indian high school students in Montana attempted suicide at least once. Death by suicide by American Indians in Montana ages 11 to 24 occurs at a rate of 42.82 (per 100,000 deaths). Compared to the statewide suicide rate of 8.01 (per 100,000 deaths) for the same age group, the suicide rate among American Indians is more than five times as high.

But there is hope. The state and tribal communities have taken steps toward addressing the high rates of suicide.

In 2013, the Montana Legislature established the first suicide mortality review team of its kind to review every suicide death, in an attempt to identify specific causes and to tailor prevention efforts accordingly. Two years later, Governor Bullock developed an initiative to reduce suicide among American Indian youth in Montana, securing $250,000 through the legislature.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services began efforts with a formal tribal consultation, which evolved into a statewide coalition meeting to develop the Montana Native Youth Suicide Reduction Strategic Plan.

During the 2017 session, several bills were proposed to address suicide among American Indians, veterans, American Indian youth, and other Montana communities at risk of suicide. On April 25, 2017, Governor Bullock signed HB118 to appropriate $1 million for suicide prevention efforts through 2019, $250,000 of which goes specifically to suicide prevention efforts in Indian Country.

Despite these investments, suicide continues to be a major public health issue for all Montanans. Collaboration between tribal and state leaders remains key to curbing suicide rates in Indian Country and safeguarding our shared goal for a zero-suicide future. Moving into the 2019 legislative session, suicide prevention should be among the state’s priorities. The legislature should continue to fund these programs and ensure that everyone has access to affordable health care.

To learn more about suicide rates among American Indians in Montana, read MBPC’s report, Indian Country Suicide Prevention:  A Critical Investment for Our Communities.

If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. Specific resources for American Indians can be found here.

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