Everything about the freshman transfer from a rural area was different from the rest of the students at the large, California school. He stood out and became an automatic target for bullying. No one stuck up for him. One day, walking home from school, several other students grouped around him, someone knocking the freshman's books out of his hands. Another student saw what happened and picked up the boy's books. They became great friends for the remaining four years of their high school careers. The boy went on to become the school's valedictorian. Audience members were confused by his speech, though, when he started telling the story about the person who saved his life. If his friend hadn't stopped to help him pick up his books, he would have gone home and committed suicide that very day four years ago. "That's how powerful things like that can be," Havre High School health enhancement teacher Kevin Sukut said after telling students about the importance of small gestures of kindness. Havre schools have written policies forbidding bullying, he said. At the same time, he said, he realizes that students find a way around those rules. But overall, bullying is not a major problem at the high school. The trend A suicidal person feels hapless, helpless and hopeless, he said. Doing something as seemingly insignificant as picking up books can do something as significant as saving a life. "The word hope is probably the biggest thing we can talk about," he said. It's a particularly important lesson to learn in Montana, where the suicide rate places the state at the top of a nationwide list. For the past 16 years, Montana has hovered in the top five states. Nationwide, 4,200 youths between the ages of 15 to 24 commit suicide each year. It's the third-leading cause of death for that age group. The suicide rate for chi ldren between 10 and 14 years of age has more than doubled in the past 15 years, and suicide is the fourthleading cause of death in the age group. In 2009, Montana saw 25.5 deaths per 100,000 people due to suicide. In the past 12 months, 19 percent of students in Havre High School have seriously contemplated commi t t ing suicide, said Inter im Superintendent Andy Carlson. That translates to one in five students. "Havre follows the Montana trend. That stat alone is significant, and it's certainly reason to give great caution to this matter," he said. "That's kind of a very sobering fact." Any time a teacher notices suicidal tendencies, it is automatically recorded, he said. "It's something that all of us pay a great deal of attention to and take quite seriously." Part of the reason for the high rate is the mindset of independence and responsibility that Montanans traditionally place on themselves, Sukut said. People are expected to take care of their own problems, he said. More men commit suicide than women, but the distinction is blurring, he said. "(Males) don't show emotion. We handle our own problems. That's the bottom line," Sukut said. Also, younger and younger chilDren are not only contemplating, but committing suicide, some as young as 10 years old. That mindset needs to change, and education about suicide and prevention can help, he said. Everyday life is stressful, he said, and educating people about how to prevent suicide can be key to keeping more people alive. Sukut said he can s e e h i s s t u d e n t s understans the gravity of suicide when he s p e n d s two days teaching them about causes of, signs of and how to avert suicide. The first day he tells students about how a former standout student and athlete killed himself and no one even guessed that he was contemplating the act. "I t kind of opened the eyes," he said. That's why giving freshmen and sophomore students Question, Persuade, Refer training is a good thing, he said. Students at Havre High School have received the training for several years, and Sukut said that he and other health enhancement teachers have been passing on the information about how to save lives to students for the past two years. He called the training and its integration into the classroom "fantastic." School personnel also go through the training, and curriculum that tackles the issue is incorporated into middle school students' health classes. A lot of the students have a connection to suicide, which can make hearing about it difficult, Sukut added, but educating students about what they can do for others and themselves when it comes to suicide is important. Communicating honestly Eighty percent of people who are suicidal communicate that they are thinking about it in some way. "Keep in mind they actually want help," Sukut said. Listening to what a friend who is depressed is saying can give clues about what their intentions are. Often, suicidal people won't directly say, "I'm going to commit suicide." Usually, they'll indirectly make statements like: "My parents would be better off without me. They won't have to deal with me soon." Or: "I'm so tired of life. I just can't go on." If a friend says something along those lines, students should directly ask if he is planning to kill himself, even if the comment sounds like an offhand joke. There's no way to tell how serious the person is unless questions are asked. "I can guarantee there are quite a few in this high school who have (contemplated suicide)," Sukut said. Several times, he has gone to a guidance counselor and voiced his concern about students who seem to be in deep depressions. People give behavioral clues, too. Those include increased random risk taking, unexplained anger, obtaining a gun or stockpiling pills, and self-destructive acts like cutting. Situational clues include a person being fired or suspended from school, family issues, the loss of any major relationship, being diagnosed with a major illness, financial problems, embarrassment with peers and fear of punishment. The clues come late in the game, though. Most suicidal people communicate their intent, be it verbally, in writing or by doing things like giving away their prized possessions to others, the week before they intend to commit the act. "So don't delay," Sukut told students. "Don't procrastinate. Let somebody know right away." Even if that means feeling like trust is being betrayed, he said. Suicide is the most preventable cause of death. Yet most youths do not tell an adul t i f they suspect a friend of planning suicide. From the time people are in school they learn: "Don't tattle. Mind your own business," Sukut said. Generally, it's good advice. But when a friend's life might be on the line, tell someone, he said. "Just a friendly conversation can go a long, long way," he said. If a student doesn't feel comfortable asking, he should ask someone who is, like a counselor, to do it instead, Sukut said. The q u e s t i o n can be phrased indirectly, like, "You look unhappy. What's going on?" But experts say that direct questions are better. For example: "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" Regardless of how the question is phrased, don't give the friend an out, Sukut said. Don't word the question like: "You're not serious about committing suicide, right?" If the friend says that, yes, he is thinking about killing himself, don't delay in getting him help. Have phone numbers for area resources onhand, or walk with him to the school counselor's office right then, Sukut said. Counselors can refer the student to other resources and work with them to solve whatever issues are causing the suicidal thoughts.
Suicide in Montana
Montana ranks No. 1 in the nation for suicide deaths per capita, with 25.5 deaths per 100,000 people due to suicide in 2009. People choose their method based on whatever is most available. "So guns are most commonly used, especially in Montana," said Kevin Sukut, a health enhancement teacher at Havre High School. He trained students this week on how to spot the signs that a person is suicidal and what to do. Other methods include: • Poison/pills, • Autocide, • Jumping, • Hanging. A large number of suicidal people are users of drugs or alcohol, and a large number of people who commit suicide are under the influence at the time of the act. "It's a coping mechanism," Sukut said. Some causes of people considering and/or committing suicide include: • Child abuse. • A major loss, like that of a family member. • Culture shock or cultural change: suicide is the No. 1 cause of death of college students. • Environmental issues, such as a long, cold winter: Many people contemplate committing suicide in the winter months and then make the decision in the spring. • Geography: Western states and rural areas see higher rates of suicide. Contributing factors include a lack of help, isolation and the mindset that people can take care of their own problems. There is a trigger in every case that pushes a suicidal person over the edge, Sukut said. Triggers can include: • Divorce; • Arrest; • Being fired; • Being diagnosed with a major illness; • Major loss.
People contemplating suicide can call the Center for Mental Health in Havre at 265-9639. Calls placed after hours will automatically be transferred to a suicide hotline. People who are in or people who think someone they know is in emotional distress or considering suicide also can call the national help line at (800) 273-8255. It's free and confidential. Calls are routed to the nearest help center to the caller. For more information, visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline. org or www. Whatadifference.org.