Governor Steve Bullock and the members of the Montana Broadcasters Association (MBA) today announced the renewal of a media campaign of TV and radio public service announcements that focus on raising awareness about suicide prevention in Montana. The media campaign first launched in April 2017.
“Suicide has broken the hearts of so many, on reservations, among veterans and active service members, across Montana in urban and rural communities, and in our schools,” Governor Bullock said. “I’m grateful for this partnership with the Montana Broadcasters Association and I know that it’s making a real difference in raising awareness of where Montanans can seek help and ultimately lives can be saved.”
MBA Board Chair Tamy Wagner said its members are committed to continuing a sustained public awareness campaign and building on the successes achieved thus far. “Montanans need to be fully aware of the resources that exist,” she said. “We know that in order to truly make an impact, these critical messages need to be reaching the public year-round. We are proud to continue this partnership.”
Recent statistical information from the same time period when the ads first began airing illustrate a noticeable increase in the usage of the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Text Line. From 2017 to 2018, there’s been a dramatic increase in the utilization of services, including to the:
- Hotline. There was a 43% increase in calls to the Lifeline from 2017 to 2018.
- Text Line. The number of contacts made to the Text Line tripled. In fact, statistical information from the Text Line shows that Montanans utilize the Text Line more than any other state in the nation. And, a 54.9% usage occurred between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. when conventional resources are not available.
- Trainings. Suicide prevention training was provided to 1,300 community members, 800 educators (296 on or near reservations or tribal health), 600 health care (104 on or near a reservation or tribal health), and 400 law enforcement and first responders.
The Lifeline is available 24/7 for people in crisis to call at 1-800-273-TALK. Veterans are urged to call this number and by pressing ‘1’ will be routed to the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline. The Text Line can be accessed by texting MT to 741 741. It offers 24/7 access to crisis counselors through a familiar format, especially appealing to youth: text message.
In 2017, MBA, along with creative talent from the Montana Television Network and the Montana Radio Company, offered to produce and air the PSAs. According to MBA President/CEO Dewey Bruce, the total estimated value for the last two years of production and air time is well over $3 million, when combined with additional donated radio air time and production from the Montana Radio Company.
The MBA is an organization made up of 155 TV and radio stations all across Montana. The spots are being aired under a program called the Non-Commercial Sustaining Announcement Program. NCSA is a 20-year-old program that has been made available to non-profits and state agencies. Bruce said MBA waived their usual charge because of their commitment and priority to partner with the state on this campaign.
The organizations worked jointly with Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials to create the ad contents. The ads focus on four main areas, including firearm safety for those at the highest risk with access to lethal means (males age 35-64), recognizing the signs of suicide, Veterans, and youth. The common theme in all four ads urge Montanans to speak up and reach out to an individual who is exhibiting signs of suicide.
Matt Kuntz of NAMI-MT said he’s not surprised more people are utilizing the Lifeline and Text Line, given the frequency the PSAs have aired over the past two years, including many other efforts in communities across the state, in schools and emergency rooms.
“There’s just a unified effort right now to educate Montanans about the signs of suicide, efforts made to reduce stigma, and to highlight the resources that are available,” Kuntz said. “There’s a lot of comprehensive work happening statewide on this topic, and it’s making a difference.”
Suicide continues to be a major public health issue in the state. Montana has been at or near the top in the nation for the rate of suicide for nearly four decades. In 2018, there was a drop in the number of suicides from 312 to 270.
Kim Spurzem of the University of Montana Center for Children, Families and Workforce Development points out the reduction in the number of suicides from 2017 to 2018 is a good sign. But, she cautions that 2018 had the highest number of deaths by suicide, so the reduction may be more of a leveling off.
“We must celebrate each small success and find hope,” she said. “We hope these numbers continue to decline and that we are, in fact, headed in the right direction.”
For more information about suicide prevention in Montana go to http://dphhs.mt.gov/amdd/Suicide
ABOUT THE PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS
The TV and radio ads can be accessed at http://dphhs.mt.gov/suicideprevention
The message: It’s vital that Montanans learn the signs of suicide, including depression, alcohol abuse, isolation, and giving away possessions.
Statistics: In 74% of the suicides where warning signs were identified, at least three warning signs were present in each suicide. DPHHS urges Montanans to speak up and ask the difficult question if an individual is showing signs of suicide. DPHHS officials say it’s important to ask: “Are you feeling suicidal?”
- Firearm safety for those at highest risk (males age 35-64) with access to lethal means.
The message: Access to lethal means is a huge factor for this age group. This ad states: ‘If a loved one is depressed, ask to temporarily store guns away from home.’
DPHHS actively promotes the importance of using gun locks. Since 2007, DPHHS has distributed over 20,000 gun locks with suicide prevention tags.
Statistics: This is the highest risk age group for suicide in Montana. Nearly 50% of Montana suicides involved males age 35-64. Further, 63% of all suicides involved a firearm compared to the national average of about 50%.
The message: This ad reaches out to Veterans.
Statistics: Montana has one of the highest suicide rates of Veterans in the U.S. at a rate of 68 per 100,000 compared to the national average of 17. And, 25% of all deaths by suicide in Montana were Veterans.
The message: This ad urges youth to reach out to their friends and offer help to those who are showing signs of suicide.
Statistics: In Montana, 31% of high school students and 26% of middle school students report experiencing high levels of sadness and hopelessness for at least two weeks over the past 12 months. In addition, 9.5% of Montana high school students and 14.8% of middle school students have attempted suicide in the past 12 months.