Man Wants Montanans to Stop Killing Themselves
For years, Montana’s suicide rate has been the highest per capita in the nation. Karl Rosston wants to do something about that. He is the state’s first suicide prevention coordinator. In his job he visits the state’s widespread communities, where few mental health facilities exist and acceptance of mental health needs can be similarly rare.
Rosston’s approach, according the Helena Independent Record, is to bring suicide out into the open, to talk about the problem, and so doing spread the word that help is available, or ought to be, for those whose personal suffering is so severe that they consider taking their own lives.
“We still struggle, thinking that if we ask someone if they’re thinking about suicide,” Rosston told the IR, “that we’ll put the idea into their head. That’s not the case....There’s not one piece of research that shows you can put that thought there. The thoughts are already there and you’re not going to add to it.”
Rosston says a direct approach is most effective. “Don’t beat around the bush. Ask if a person is feeling suicidal. It gives them the opportunity to talk and so many people just want to talk, to ask for help, and they don’t know how.”
In Montana, suicide is the ninth most prevalent cause of death. Nationwide, about ten people out of 100,000 take their own lives annually. In Montana, twice as many do so, and twice the number that die as a result of homicide.
“There’s a culture of suicide in Montana…,” Rosston said. “If you’re depressed, weak, being a burden or not strong, suicide is culturally acceptable here,” and using statistics that go back to the 1930s, Rosston knows what he’s talking about.
From 2000 to 2005, fourteen kids age 10 to 14 killed themselves in Montana. In the same time period, 153 people between the ages of 15 and 24 took their own lives. Over those years, suicide was the second most frequent cause of death in the 10 to 34 age bracket.
Rosston visits schools encouraging young people to talk to one another, and to intervene, letting those who may be contemplating suicide know that there are other choices. The program he represents is called Signs of Suicide (SOS). It is promoted by thousands of schools across the country, including those in Bozeman and Livingston, with a total of 48 schools participating in all of Montana.
Rosston said that suicide is preventable with the right knowledge and approach. “Depression is the most treatable mental health disorder,” he said, “and suicide is completely preventable, if you know about it and know the resources available.”