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Programs bring community together to support suicide awareness, prevention

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ARLEE – The first of several dinners developed around suicide awareness began at the Brown Building on Wednesday, March 15.

It wasn’t a dinner where people got up and spoke about how to prevent suicide, although information was available in pamphlet form if anyone wanted it. The event was more about people coming together, smiling, talking and having a good time. Each community can take their dinner and conversation in any direction needed.

Everyone was invited, including the kids. “We want to bring the community together,” said Mary- Rose Morigeau, suicide prevention and information coordinator for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Health Department.

Morigeau said people are busy in the modern world, depending more on computers, and maybe socializing less, which could lead to loneliness and depression. And people might also want a place to cope with their grief by talking to others.

“Arlee has been hit hard by suicide in the last year, and people might need to talk about it to heal as a community,” she said.

A federal grant supplied funding for the project for five years, which includes programs focused on community connections, education and intervention. “We are two and a half years into the grant,” she said.

One of those programs is called Question, Persuade and Refer, which is shortened to QPR. Project coordinators call this the three simple steps to help save a life, much like CPR, with training events offered at several locations. Continuing education credits are available for school teachers.

Just as people are trained in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver to help save thousands of lives each year, people trained in QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of suicide crisis, and how to question, persuade and refer someone to help, according to QPR literature.

Brenda Bodnar, health and wellness division director for CSKT, said the community dinners started as a result of people saying they wanted more opportunities to socialize in the community.

Montana has ranked in the top-five for suicide rates in the nation for the past 30 years, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. “Suicide is complicated,” Bodnar said. “We have no idea why the numbers are so high, but we want to do something to help.”

She said one consistent message is part of the project: “Everyone is important.” And she wants to spread that message, although her work is made difficult by a stigma surrounding suicide that can make a person feel weak for asking for help.

“Mental health isn’t any different than any other disease,” she said. “If you have a stomach ache, you get help. Suicide should be treated the same way.”

She said people thinking about suicide should go to the emergency room immediately.

“They often don’t realize they are having a medical emergency,” she said.

Suicide is an issue that affects the entire community.

“Even though our division is hosting this, it is something that the entire community needs to come together on,” Bodnar said. “This is a problem across all populations.”

CSKT Tribal Council Member Patty Stevens said many resources are available to help bring awareness to suicide in communities across the Flathead Indian Reservation — for all people.

“I’d like to see them work together so we can get more done,” she said. She attended the Arlee dinner with her husband Willy Stevens. She recommends people sign up for the QPR program.

“You learn about what to do if you see someone in trouble so you can do something,” she said.

Willy Stevens works with a Tribal Health program to help youth affected by suicide or drugs. He said the dinners are a perfect way to assist the community.

“Any activity that gets kids involved is important,” he said. Events that bring people together help in a subtle way, he said.

“It’s not about sitting here and telling people not to do it or don’t take drugs – that doesn’t work,” he said. “But we can try to help by giving people opportunities and ways to be involved with the community and culture.”

For more information about the next dinner, a QPR class, or suicide awareness projects, call Morigeau at 406-745-3525 ext. 5097. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741-741.

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