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Annual suicide awareness walk held in Havre


Last updated 9/11/2020 at 11:51am

Havre Daily News/Rachel Jamieson

Montana State University Billings Student Health Services Director and Ask in Earnest Founder Darla Tyler-McSherry gives the keynotes speech Thursday on the Montana State Univesity-Northern Quad before the annual Suicide Awareness Walk.

"We have had an interesting year in 2020, to say the least and it's certainly has brought some challenges to us in organizing this event, nonetheless, our coalition knew it was important for people to come together to recognize the impact of suicide in our community, to celebrate the lives that have been lost and to support those who may be struggling," Hill County Suicide Awareness Coalition Chair Amber Spring said Thursday before the Sixth Annual Hill County Suicide Awareness Walk.

After the presentations, people walked around the campus, with most wearing a suicide awareness mask provided at the event.

The event's keynote speaker, Montana State University Billings Student Health Services Director and Ask in Earnest Founder Darla Tyler-McSherry, talked about her personal experience with suicide.

"I used to think suicide was this terrible, horrible, tragic event that happened to other people, all that changed for us Sept. 30, 2016," she said. 

She said her father, wheat farmer Dick Tyler, committed suicide at 82 years old.

The focus and the work she does, she said, is really targeted toward the farm and ranch population, because that population suffered disproportionate rates of suicide compared to other populations.

The rates for suicide are 45 percent higher in the rural populations than it is in the urban populations, she said.

Since 1999, Montana has had a 38 percent increase in suicides compared to 25 percent nationally, she added.

"Not only are farmers in America struggling with suicide, but farmers across the planet," Tyler-McSherry said. "Farmers have have disproportionate rates suicide not only here in the U.S., but also in the United Kingdom, India and Australia, so it's a global issue."

She said people can do things to help end that.

Tyler-McSherry said factors that are unique to the farm and ranch population are that as farmers and ranchers, they never get to leave their job site - there isn't that psychological and physical break from work and then life outside of work.

Another factor is the loneliness of isolation, she said.

"Where we grew up in Chouteau County, there's 1.5 people per square mile - there's not a lot of people to connect to," Tyler-McSherry said. "The average population in the U.S. per square mile is 88 people, so here in rural Montana that is such a permeating factor for people especially in these rural parts."

She said couple of myths about sucide are:

• If one talks about suicide it causes it.

• Suicide happens without warning - actually, about 70 to 80 percent of people do exhibit warning signs.

Warning singing that people should pay attention to are if one is talking about a loss of hope, one sees themselves as a burden and one can't see a future for themselves, she said.

She said the word "suicide" needs to come out of people's mouths if they are worried about someone.

"We need to let people know we care. We need to let people know they matter and that we need them here with us," Tyler-Mcherry said. "...  We have to see from a different perspective and we also have to listen, and sometimes we have to listen to what is not being said. ... Listening a little bit differently, seeing a little bit differently can help save lives.

"Asking for help is the greatest sign of strength; it is never a sign of weakness," she added.

Havre Encourages Long-Range Prevention - HELP -Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line Prevention Specialist and Substance Abuse And Misuse Coalition representative Susan Brurud spoke about the Thumbs Up campaign she is a part of.

She said the Substance Abuse And Misuse Coalition is a working group out of the Hill County Health Consortium that was formed more than a year ago.

One of the first things the coalition did was to look at data that was already established within the community to assess the gaps that were needed and where the coalition could make the most immediate impact, she said.

In the 2016 Hill County prevention needs assessment, she said, the coalition found a key question that asked youth is whether "My neighbors notice when I'm doing a good job and let me know about it."

She said a higher percentage of Hill County youth indicated that they didn't feel that their neighbors noticed or cared when they made good choices.

"When we saw this we knew that sometimes we have to do something to change lots of behaviors, but this we already knew, we do care about our youth," Brurud said. "We know that our rural community embraces our youth. They show up at sporting events, cooking classes, bake sales and anything else our youth have. So we were like, how can we help our youth to understand that we do care?"

She said that is how they came up with the Thumbs Up campaign.

They are asking the adults in the community, when they see someone making a good choice, to simply give them a thumbs up and let them know that they are noticed, seen and they are cared for, she said.

Spring said the theme for this year's event is "Connect to Protect."

Havre Daily News/Rachel Jamieson

Hill County Suicide Awareness Coalition Chair Amber Spring speaks Thursday on the Montana State Univesity-Northern Quad before the annual Suicide Awareness Walk.

The theme is borrowed from the 2020 Suicide Prevention Theme from the Department of Defense, she said.

"In a time when so many of us have experienced the effects of disruptions to our normal sources of support it is even more important to recognize the role that connection to family, friends, community and resources play in preventing suicide," she added. "As a community we can continue to support educational programming for community members to learn how they can help those developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. These programs help identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness."

People interested in learning more about the programs can contact Behavioral Health Local Advisory Council Chair Andi Daniel at [email protected] .

"I challenge each of you to work every day to connect to protect as we work to achieve the goal of zero suicides," Spring said.


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