In a community ravaged by suicide, individual efforts have been made to address the issue and instigate lasting positive change. Despite these efforts, suicide has remained prevalent in Miles City and eastern Montana, and has resulted in the loss of lives even within the last month. A unified and collaborative approach may be necessary to end the crisis of suicide in our community.
Global Health Equity Foundation plans to merge previous efforts into a single, interactive approach. Attacking the problem head on will truly make a significant impact in eastern Montana. Global Health Equity Foundation is a non-profit organization seeking to address challenges faced by health and mental health care providers in rural areas. The Foundation serves as a catalyst for community awareness, communication, and involvement. Already, several community forums have been held to facilitate discussion. GHEF is sponsoring a documentary film as part of a Community Media Based Project with a focus on suicide.
While there have been groups and individuals, such as the Local Advisory Committee and Holy Rosary Healthcare, who have sought to increase suicide awareness, the issue has been covered up or ignored by many others. For a significant impact to be made, involvement in suicide prevention and awareness of warning signs, and of what those struggling with mental illness may be facing needs to be nurtured in our community. Having community leaders interested and active is a great start, but it is the community as a whole who must act if the issue is to be resolved. GHEF will continue to hold community forums, and will provide print publications to present the objectives of the Foundation and information on suicide in order to spur community awareness and involvement.
Suicide is a grave concern in Eastern Montana. According to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, suicide ranked as the second-leading cause of death for three age groups, ranging from 10-34 years old. In Miles City alone, there have been many unfortunate incidences of people taking their own lives. Although suicide among adolescents and young adults may be the most commonly recognized and publicized, the elderly have the highest rate of suicide nationally, and suicide remained as the third-leading cause of death for those 35-44, and suicide ranks fourth for people aged 45-54.
Suicide is harmful not only to individuals, but clearly to families, friends, and communities. Ken Holmlund, who lost his son Kevin to suicide, is among many eastern Montanans who have lost a family member to suicide. Holmlund’s son Kevin committed suicide when he was 17 years old, and Holmlund now uses his ability as an orator to share his story, although he admits the topic is never an easy one to present. Kevin was a talented young man involved in Key Club and Speech and Drama. He was a math whiz who had been accepted to study engineering and robotics at Purdue University. Holmlund described his son as a “good kid who made a serious mistake.” While Holmlund knows firsthand that losing a child is incredibly difficult, he also suggested putting an emphasis on siblings and other family members left behind, “who may feel alone and need just as much help as parents.”
When asked how authorities in Miles City and the surrounding area can best meet the needs of families after a suicide crisis, Holmlund advised training public officials and workers who respond to such cases. A long-time friend who was serving as police officer for the Miles City task force informed Holmlund about Kevin’s suicide.
“It is devastating to tell someone their child is gone, and there needs to be more emphasis on training people in these roles,” said Holmlund. “Nobody has the right words to say, but being there to listen without passing judgment is critical.”
On being questioned about the best way to diminish the occurrence of suicide in eastern Montana, Holmlund advises reaching kids at a young age to educate them on the severity and permanence of suicide. Suicide has occurred even among middle school students in Miles City. Middle school can be a difficult age where a great deal of change may occur as new relationships form and adolescents seek an identity for themselves. Holmlund also feels bullying and a lack of activities for youth only exacerbate the problem. A youth center or outlet for kids would be especially beneficial.
In eastern Montana stigma against mental illness makes combating suicide even more challenging. It is easy to overlook the symptoms and severity of mental illness, and many people disregard it entirely. Holmlund said his personal views on mental illness have evolved through all of his experiences, and he realizes how drastically mental illness can distress people.
“In most cases people are not feigning mental illness,” said Holmlund, “It is really serious, and it really does affect people.”
Holmlund believes his son Kevin may have had some chemical imbalance that contributed to his state, and, after losing his son he faced a bout of depression.
“Don’t ignore it,” Holmlund urges, “It won’t get better by itself.”
Unfortunately, Kevin and Ken Holmlund’s story is only one of many in eastern Montana. To truly make an impact in reducing suicide, not just for teens but for Montanans of all ages, unity and the dissemination of knowledge are necessary. Action and involvement is needed, and Holmlund urges remembering those who have been lost to suicide. Recently at a class reunion, Kevin’s former classmates conducted a remembrance in honor of Kevin and visited the family.
Alongside the work being conducted by Global Health Equity Foundation, an Out of the Darkness Walk, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will be held on September 11, 2011. Ken Holmlund will speak at this event, giving a full account of his family’s story.
For More Information Contact:
Global Health Equity Foundation is a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of people who lack access to health education, prevention services, and healthcare. For more information on Global Health Equity Foundation or any of its projects, please visit www.ghef.org.