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In February, Logan Health hosted a “Let’s Talk About It” basketball game at Carroll College in Helena to bring awareness to suicide prevention. Players added the names of people they know who have been affected by suicide to their shirts as a way to show why they take the pledge to talk openly and honestly about mental health struggles.

Let's Talk About It - students wearing suicide prevention shirts
In 2023, Logan Health and Billings Clinic combined to form the largest Montana-based health organization. In doing so, they took on a challenge that has plagued Montana for decades. For more than 40 years, Montana has had one of the highest suicide rates in the United States. Thanks to collaborative efforts, the Let’s Talk About It campaign, an initiative to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging an open dialogue on the subject, was born. The shared endeavor, symbolically mirroring the consolidation of Logan Health and Billings Clinic, united eastern and western Montana in a common cause against a shared adversary.

Montana’s alarmingly high suicide rates are shaped by a variety of factors, some of which are beyond control. From the geographical challenges of altitude and isolation to socioeconomic disparities and cultural complexities, the landscape is daunting. Despite these obstacles, there is an opportunity to change how Montanans view mental health in society and create an environment of empathy and support.

One significant factor contributing to Montana’s high suicide rates is the disproportionate presence of at-risk groups within its population. Veterans, middle-aged white men, and Native Americans all bear a heavy burden, experiencing suicide rates surpassing the national average. Geographical isolation and harsh environmental conditions prevalent in many regions heighten the feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, particularly among these vulnerable populations.

Additionally, Montana’s youth suicide rate is troubling, as it is more than double the national average. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), suicide is the number one cause of preventable death for children aged 10-14. A 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey also indicated that 10.2% of all Montana students in grades 9-12 had made a suicide attempt.

The elderly also have higher suicide rates than average. Stigma has especially affected the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomer generations. These older adults tend to feel shame and embarrassment when talking about their struggles, and they often fear being labeled as mentally ill or unable to care for themselves. This stigma has led to many older adults suffering in silence. According to the Montana DPHHS, in 2021 the suicide rate for seniors (aged 65+) was 17 per 100,000. And it was 22.4 per 100,000 for those over 85.

These numbers indicate how dire the suicide situation has become and why it is necessary to take a stand as a state. These suicides of our friends, family members and neighbors are preventable, and together we can create an environment of empathy and understanding that encourages open conversation and promotes mental wellness. Nobody should have to suffer in silence. Together we can make a positive change in our communities.

In response to this crisis, awareness of available resources has become essential. The implementation of the 988 number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as well as online resources like logan.org/LetsTalk, represents crucial steps in bridging the gap between individuals in crisis and the support they desperately need.

Since its inception, the Let’s Talk About It campaign has been at the forefront of igniting conversations about mental health across Montana. Through strategic partnerships with organizations like the Montana High School Association and the Frontier Conference, Billings Clinic – Logan Health has orchestrated a series of Let’s Talk About It-themed basketball games at high schools and colleges. These events serve not only to raise awareness but also to foster a sense of community and support around the issue of suicide prevention.

Integral to the success of the campaign are the student athletes who have embraced its message wholeheartedly. Figures like Tommy Mellott from Montana State University, Dani Bartsch from the University of Montana, and Arlee Dunk Champion Isaac Fisher have lent their voices and platforms to championing this cause. By leveraging their influence and visibility, they help to amplify the campaign’s reach and impact, inspiring others to join the conversation and break the silence surrounding mental health.

Looking ahead, the Let’s Talk About It campaign remains committed to its mission of eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health and promoting open dialogue throughout Montana. By continuing to engage communities, empower individuals, and advocate for systemic change, Billings Clinic and Logan Health strive to create a future where conversations about mental health are not only encouraged but embraced openly and without reservation.
In the fight against Montana’s suicide crisis, every conversation matters. Let’s keep talking about it.