Susan McDaniel Havre Daily News email@example.com
It began as a project for their Community Service Seminar, a senior-level class designed to show an overall knowledge of the program materials learned while they have been students at Montana State University-Northern. Seven students discussed topical issues facing students and decided on suicide prevention as their project topic. “This is not a Havre issue or an MSU-N issue, but it is something that people are worrying about on campuses across the state,” group member Samantha Clawson said. The group chose suicide as a project by unanimous agreement. “We have all been touched by someone who either had attempted or succeeded in committing suicide,” Clawson said. The group was curious about why so many people were attempting suicide and why there wasn’t help available for people. Suicide wasn’t the first issue discussed by the group, but of all the issues it was considered the most important. There are few community resources for people in crisis. Research showed the group that help is a lot of help in the community if you know how to find it. We are five hours from any city that has ready access to people in crisis. Golden Triangle Community Health Center provides excellent services but only to people who are already clients. Suicide is a taboo subject. An example of how society deals with suicide are obituary notices. The cause of death left out because families are unwilling to admit to a suicide in public. People have to be willing to discuss the problem or no Help can be gotten. People tend to live isolated lives. “It’s not something that a lot of people talk about, but we will be hearing more and more about it over the next two to four years,” Clawson said. Seven students that are really concerned about the topic at MSU-N and who had full backing and support from the administration attended the November Board of Regents meeting only to find that the larger institutions were looking at the issue at the same time. “Especially considering how universities are going to be held legally liable, this is going to be something that students, faculty and administration are going to be facing, handling and familiarizing themselves with, so we picked an issue that was pretty topical to do for our report.” The group created a brochure that is meant to be used as a handout/resource with the names of local agencies that can help a person in crisis or someone who cares about such a person. There will be changes made to the final printing of the brochure including the MSU-N logo and a new photograph. The brochure from this project will be reworked and used as a resource during orientation of new students. Many of the statistics used by the students for their project and report were assembled for them by Northern Montana Hospital. The hospital keeps records of types of admittances without any personal information attached that can be used for studies such as these. The statistics gathered from Northern Montana Hospital show that in the last 10 years, 694 persons were admitted with self-inflicted injuries, poisoning or overdose. The statistics kept at NMH only reflect those people who were admitted and received their care here, not anyone who was flown out. The reason fatality counts were low was because severe injuries and fatal or possibly fatal injuries are flown out to Great Falls and fatalities are counted in Great Falls statistics. Group grateful to the hospital for the information that they assembled and provided. General, nation-wide statistics show that college students are the most prone to suicide and suicidal behavior. There are 7.5 suicides for every 100 thousand students in higher education facilities nationwide, or an average of 1000 per year at institutions of higher learning across the country. Two groups of students are mainly at risk. Those that come in with diagnosed mental illness and the second group that develop a mental illness while attending. “Colleges just don’t have the resources to handle the problems of the mentally ill,” Clawson said. Medication helps more students attend schools that wouldn’t have been able to 20 years ago. So more people with mental illness are taking advantage of higher educational opportunities. In the past, people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia would not have had higher education as an option. Most would have been institutionalized or cared for at home. Quite a few of the students who enter universities with a diagnosed illness are not receiving treatment because of lack of resources, either no insurance or costs are a problem. For one reason or another they choose not to receive help. Leaving behind support systems they had in place in high school parents, counselor or therapists stresses become overwhelming. “It’s just amazing how stressful attending college is, no matter how old you are,” Clawson said. A division of labor among group members made the one semester project possible with much help from members of the community. “The hospital provided all that information all we had to do was ask for it,” Clawson said. In addition, Sue Swan, the registered nurse at Student Health Services provided training to class members. Residence Life Director Chancy Ringer worked with the group showing them what the administration is doing in the dorms. Kay Nessland of the Havre Public Schools provided information about what the public schools were doing about the issue. “Sue Swan has some good brochures and this one has good local information, it makes a nice addition to the information available,” community service professor Katherine Williams said. Administration and staff members have been trained in suicide prevention methods and three Swan, Ringer and Assistant Dean of Students Bill Lanier are also certified to teach QPR. Student advisors and resident hall advisors have also received the training. The QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) model for suicide prevention is a national training program that has the primary goal of providing suicide prevention education services and materials. “The University took steps to make changes before this became an issue,” student Starlaen Perkins said. “The University was proactive on the issue. The project took a large investment of time on the part of the employees and a large expenditure of funds on the part of the administration.” Students undertaking the suicide prevention project were, Jamie Smartt, Starlaen Perkins, Samantha Clawson, Cammie Reddies, Mary Plumage, Serene Sunchild and Gerri Seymour. “The administration took us seriously and treated our ideas with interest,” Clawson said. Suicide is a community-wide problem. With the local meth problem and overall increase in drug use, the community will probably be experiencing more suicide attempts. “It’s nice that the project is not just this semester but will have an impact on the community,” Jamie Smartt said.