Montana Broadcasters Launch Campaign to Combat Suicides

Public service spots aimed at increasing awareness of the signs of suicide and the help that is available

By BOBBY CAINA CALVAN, Associated Press

HELENA — Montana broadcasters unveiled a series of ads Wednesday, for radio and television, as part of a campaign to heighten awareness over the issue of suicide — how to look for signs of distress and where to find help.

A key component of the campaign is to draw attention to the role firearms play in many suicides in a state where guns are easily available. Suicide-prevention groups advocate wider use of gun locks.

Montana has among the highest rates of suicide in the nation, with at least 555 Montanans killing themselves between January 2014 and March 2016. The state’s rate is twice the national average.

The grim statistics has alarmed communities across the state as they seek more resources and greater awareness to better address the matter.

In April, Gov. Steve Bullock signed a bill authorizing spending $1 million to help prevent suicides. Part of that money will go to schools, tribes and other community groups who work toward suicide prevention.

Bullock joined members of the Montana Broadcaster’s Association on Wednesday to unveil the campaign.

The association, comprised of 155 television and radio stations across the state, produced the ads and will air them free of charge over the next year, the group said. The public service work is valued at more than $200,000.

“The role of this messaging is to start a conversation about an issue that’s difficult to discuss,” said Angela Terry of the Montana Radio Company, which helped produce some of the spots.

One of the ads focuses attention on military veterans, who account for more than a fifth of suicides in Montana.

“Although we have resources, what we have not been able to do is to get that word out sufficiently so every service member, every veteran, across the state of Montana is aware of the resources that are available,” said Major General Matthew Quinn, the commander of Montana’s National Guard.

Among the resources is a suicide hotline, (800) 273-8255.

The underlying message of the ads is that suicide is not the answer to life’s challenges and that people don’t have to be alone in facing grief and personal woes.

Matt Kuntz, the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Montana, said more needs to be done to expand mental health services across the state, particularly in rural communities.

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