The battle of suicide prevention in the Mayor's Challenge continues

The mayors of Helena and Billings both accepted the challenge to elevate the issue of suicide prevention among military service members. In April, the challenge was started by the Veterans Administration to identify cities across the country that have high rates of suicide.

Dr. Claire Oakley is the director of health promotion at Riverstone Health. She said Montana now has the highest veteran suicide rate in the country, compared to April, when the state was second.

Dr. Oakley said this means the rate of suicide among veterans, nationally, is 30 per 100 thousand people, or, 20 per day. Montana is at 50 per 100 thousand. She said educating the public will help prevention in any situation and that applies to veteran suicide.

"People have long felt that if you mention the word suicide, you're going to cause someone to tip into suicidal idealization or suiciding when the evidence is really the opposite," Dr. Oakley said.

On top of educating the community about suicide, Dr. Oakley said Riverstone Health is working on peer-to-peer efforts, establishing websites for information, providing support groups, and expanding 2-1-1 efforts.

Mayor Cole, who accepted the Mayor's Challenge, said he hopes the efforts in Billings to prevent suicide will spread throughout the state.

"If some of these programs that we're working on for veterans and service members and their families are successful and they can be adopted in the school district, at the university level, or amongst private employer's in town, that could have a very positive ripple effect and that'd be a great measure of success," Mayor Cole said.

The Billings Police Department has taken part in veteran suicide prevention.

"Both the city of Billings through the police department and Riverstone Health are going to pilot military cultural awareness in our employees so that we're ready to serve fellow employees and we're ready to serve the public who comes into our doors."

Dr. Oakley said it takes community effort to lower the suicide rate.

"Our vision is of Billings as a community of support for service members, veterans, and their families in which to live, work, and play."

Mayor and Dr. Oakley say the effort to lower veteran suicide rates will not happen overnight.

"We're not going to be able to move the needle immediately," Dr. Oakley said. "It's going to take years to move the needle and see positive change."

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