The Words of the Yakawich Family
"Living for the sake of others" in Montana means doing what I can to tackle the serious (and preventable) problem of suicide in the state. The sad fact is, Montana currently ranks number one in the nation for the rate of suicide, with a rate of nearly 22 per 100,000, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control. So, when I got the opportunity to chair the Billings Area Suicide Prevention Coalition of Yellowstone Valley (SPC-YV), I saw an opportunity. And the good news is that hundreds of Montanans joined us on Saturday, September 21, for the 5th Annual "Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention community walk." It was a very positive and educational event.
In recent years, Billings has made leaps and bounds on suicide prevention and education through the work of this coalition. On September 4th, I put out a press release to kick off Suicide Prevention Week (September 6-12) and we were quoted on September 5 by Channel 8 TV in Billings.
On Saturday, September 21st, our coalition gathered more than 250 people at Veterans Park in Billings, Montana, where we fanned the flames of passion and commitment to reduce suicide in Montana. Working with a wide range of community leaders from the Veterans Administration, River Stone Health Department, Key Clubs, hospitals, Boys and Girls Ranch, school counselors, church pastors and especially survivors, this coalition already has accomplished much.
We have produced a brochure to establish our identity, along with our mission statement and statement of purpose. These have been widely distributed throughout the area. We have put together more than 200 survivor packets as well as another 200 prevention packets that are being distributed to chaplains, counselors, clergy, and community workers who have some stake in suicide issues. The response has been encouraging. Funeral-home directors, police, clergy and others who have cared for survivors of suicide tell us that the packets have made a big difference. Our prevention packets are well received in schools, youth groups, churches, and other locations where prevention of suicide is stressed. There are many websites on suicide prevention.
We have supported the work of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention through its annual "Out of the Darkness Walk," the National Survivors Day closed-circuit television program, and other educational forums. We have helped support and sponsor Applied Suicide Prevention Skills training (ASIST), "Question, Persuade, and Refer" (QPR) training and other public presentations in schools and other facilities for suicide prevention education. Currently, working with the River Stone Health Department, we are educating over 30 social workers and psychologists in ASIST training. Also, we are distributing at no cost to clients more than 300 gun locks to the Hunters Safety Program in the Yellowstone County.
Since suicide is the number two cause of death of young Montanans, we have supported the local high-school Key Clubs which are working on suicide prevention through their program, "Project Life." We are supporting the local Veterans Affairs personnel as they work hard on suicide prevention for our service men and women, especially those returning home from months in action. We also work with the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council on their suicide-prevention program, called "Planting Seeds of Hope."
Our Coalition sends holiday greeting cards to survivors; provides yellow-ribbon presentations, bar coasters, and printed materials; and makes group presentations to help develop programs for local support groups. These groups are led by survivors who are dedicated to providing a forum of support and compassion for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Also, we are working on ideas to present to the legislators on policy pertinent to suicide prevention such as bullying, mental health services, and other areas.
As we work more together and pull resources to focus more on prevention, we are confident we will be even more successful. We wish to offer our ideas to other parts of the state as well as learn of the good things others are doing in suicide prevention as well. Together with psychologists and psychiatrists, survivors and students, counselors and clergy, directors, health care and social workers, and others, we are committed to make our community and state number one in suicide prevention. I am confident that this is a goal that each state shares in common and is certainly all part of building the Kingdom of Heaven in our nation.
Photo by Mrs. Yukiko Yakawich