By MORGAN BROWN/Montana State News
Montana’s suicide rate has ranked among the top five states for over 30 years, due in part to low socioeconomic conditions that are common in low-income areas such as American Indian Reservations.
In 2009, Montana had the highest suicide rate in the nation at one in every 4,444 people, more than double the national rate of one in every 8,333 people.
Trishena Kills Pretty Enemy, a Montana State University student from the Crow reservation said, “Three years ago, people were just committing suicide all over. My cousin committed suicide, my friend’s 11-year-old daughter committed suicide. My niece in Poppler had two classmates kill themselves.”
The suicide rate among American Indian Montanans is considerably higher than among Caucasian state residents. In 2011, one in every 3,676 American Indians living in Montana committed suicide. The rate among white Montana residents was one in every 4,504 people, according to Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Kills Pretty Enemy said, “Alcohol, drugs, and poverty are handed down from generation to generation on reservations, and that has a lot to do with suicide. It’s a terrible cycle. It was so sad for me when my cousin killed herself, but that’s why I’m going to school, to break the cycle. I want to be a better role model for my friends and family on the reservation.”
Low socioeconomic status and rural residency are two of the top factors that lead to suicide. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15.5 percent of Montana residents live in poverty, almost tied with the national average of 15.4. A moderate poverty rate and rural living may be partly responsible for Montana’s high suicide rates. Mental illness and alcoholism are also important contributors to suicide, according to Montana DPHHS.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Gallatin County is $52,833. On the Crow reservation, the median household income is considerably lower at $27,044, while the state’s median household income is $33,024.
Gallatin County has a lower suicide rate compared to the state’s average. Between 2000 and 2006, the suicide rate in the Gallatin Valley was one of every 5,882 people. Though the rate is lower than the state average, it is still much higher than the national average of one in every 8,333 people.
The Help Center is Bozeman’s local resource for suicide prevention and intervention. They offer several suicide prevention programs and training for community members interested in suicide prevention and crisis response. The Help Center runs a 24-hour suicide hotline, 1-800-273-TALK. For more information, visit their website at bozemanhelpcenter.org.
– Edited by Abraham Feigenbaum