HELENA - Health leaders are hosting a meeting in Helena this week to discuss what can be done to address suicide in Montana’s native population.
More than 75 people were in attendance for the start of the Zero Suicide Academy, including tribal leaders, representatives of urban Indian centers and health professionals.
Gov. Steve Bullock opened the event by thanking them for their dedication.
“I am, in part, haunted by what you’re here to work on,” he said. “I know that I’m just one individual, just like each of you are one individual. We can be tired, or we can recommit and say, ‘We’ve got to continue this; we need to change things.’”
The Zero Suicide Academy is a major component of Montana’s Native Youth Suicide Reduction Plan, released earlier this year. Many of the people attending the academy had been part of the coalition that put the plan together.
The goal of the event is to share ideas people can take back and implement in their own communities.
During Wednesday’s program, attendees spoke about how the issue of suicide has affected their communities. Leaders from Fort Belknap said they had dealt with two suicides in just the last month.
Anna Whiting Sorrell is the director of operations, planning and policy for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Tribal Health Department. She said this week’s event is historic.
“There aren’t many times in my career that I have seen in Indian Country where tribal programs, tribal leaders, tribal health professionals, from reservations or urban communities, come together in one room to strategize on one issue,” she said.
Whiting Sorrell said, in her opinion, the most important step isn’t putting more resources toward suicide prevention. She said agencies at every level need to rethink the way they approach the issue.
“It’s about what each one of us are willing to commit to do,” she said. “Are we willing to look at breaking down barriers and silos to work together, and what am I personally willing and able to do to address the multiple issues that face our tribal communities?”
The academy is being organized by the Zero Suicide Institute, based on its nationwide framework for suicide prevention. The event will run through Thursday.