Montana is tied with Wyoming as the state with the highest suicide rate per capita in the U.S. It’s a somber fact.
The Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness held its 11th annual NAMIWalk Sunday, its major fundraiser and awareness builder of the year. This year a local tragedy just one week before the walk punctuated the event, putting an exclamation point on how close to home depression and suicide really is.
Carroll College’s Director of Counseling Services took his own life just a week ago. Mike Franklin was in his 12th year at Carroll, “helping (students) cope with difficult mental and emotional situations,” reads the school’s website.
Kris Minard, from Montana City, was at this year’s walk to honor Franklin. “This year I felt compelled to come,” she said.
“We lost Mike last week,” said NAMI volunteer Matt Kuntz, “I’ve never seen anyone fight harder.”
Almost everyone at Sunday’s walk had a personal connection mental illness and many had experienced suicide of a family member or friend. Jeannie Brandt, a physician at Shodair Children’s Hospital, is more familiar than she’d like to be with the interrelated issues of mental illness and suicide. Her brother lost his battle with mental illness over a decade ago and committed suicide.
Cory Olson was at Sunday’s walk. Olson’s reason for being there, he said, wasn’t so much personal but that because of his profession he is on the front lines. Olson is an investigator with the sheriff’s department. He felt compelled to be there Sunday, for his community. “You’ve got to support this,” he said. Olson brought his entire family: his wife, Marilyn, and their children -- Tianna, Tavia, Reece and Tashia.
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Volunteers guessed that the turnout this year was over a thousand, all willing to risk getting wet in a rain shower.
Jason DeShaw, a guitar player/singer, proudly announced himself as a “bipolar country singin’ son of gun.” He described the movement to gain public acceptance of people with a mental illness as the “great civil rights struggle of our time.”
DeShaw offered a unique take on the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
“Somewhere under the rainbow,” he sang, “Way down low.”
As the walkers entered Centennial Park, the four-person Pipes and Drums of the Black Devils played the classic Scottish battle song, "Scotland the Brave."
For more information about NAMI Montana, go online to namimt.org or call 443-7871.