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Preventing Suicide is Everyone’s Business

“Preventing suicide is everyone's business.” That’s the fundamental premise of Project Tomorrow Montana, a suicide prevention initiative in Missoula, Montana. In just the past year, volunteers for Project Tomorrow Montana have trained more than 3,000 middle and high schoolers and adults in QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer) and other approaches to suicide prevention.

Volunteer instructors include survivors of suicide loss and suicide attempts, all determined to make a difference in a state that has long had among the nation's highest suicide rate and also where veterans make up a large percentage of the population. Deb Orozco, a Navy veteran, recently shared why she became a certified QPR volunteer instructor.

“Many combat veterans I have worked with grapple with PTSD and depression, and their friends and family struggle to find ways to support them,” she said. “I see QPR as a lifeline for these families. Gaining the tools and training to intervene when a family member's life is in danger is a very empowering experience, lifting families out of the helplessness and confusion they often feel when trying to understand and help their beloved veteran. The program is simple, direct, and powerful, and it can truly save lives.”  

Class participants would agree. One recently said, "I have a friend at work who has discussed suicide with me and I didn't know what to say. Now I have resources for this person and know what to say to them."

One of the ways to measure success of suicide-prevention initiatives is by the amount of "traffic" to available resources. Since trainings through this initiative began in 2014, there has been an increase in the number of calls and texts from Montana to the National Suicide Lifeline and Crisis Text Line. In 2016, Missoula County had the highest rate of use and made up approximately 20% of all Montana text conversations with the line.

The initial goal is for every employee at every employer in the area to be trained in QPR. Project Tomorrow Montana has provided free training to every staff member in the Missoula County school district. At the University of Montana, nearly 300 students from the overall student body and most nursing school students on campus have gone through training before graduating. All local hospital employees have been offered the training, with more than 100 participating to date.

Public events are also raising awareness that suicide is preventable and further reducing the stigma. Project Tomorrow Montana has sponsored events during Suicide Prevention Week and on International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, and even disseminates information and fields questions at gun shows. Founded by United Way of Missoula County, the Missoula City-County Health Department, the University of Montana’s Institute for Educational Research and Service, and Living Works Education, the effort has buy-in and participation from throughout the community.

Every day, 20 American veterans take their own lives. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and 17th worldwide. Let’s take what’s working in Missoula and make suicide prevention everyone’s business in other communities.

Here’s how to get started:

Inspired by what you read? Change starts with you. Take action today to make a difference in your community.

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