The statistics are sobering: For the past 30 years, Montana has ranked in the top five states for its rate of suicides. As your land-grant university, Montana State is dedicated to addressing this problem. We are marshaling expertise far and wide from our University Health Partners; MSU Extension; our College of Nursing; the Department of Microbiology and Immunology; the College of Education, Health and Human Development; the Gianforte School of Computing; the schools of Art, Music, and Film and Photography; the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and the departments of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Psychology and Sociology, just to name a few.
This work is coordinated by MSU’s Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery, or CMHRR, which was formed in 2014. Not owned by, or housed in, any single unit, the center facilitates mental health teaching, research and outreach to benefit the entire state.
The center has made important progress in youth suicide prevention through a novel program called Youth Aware of Mental Health or YAM. While faculty on campus design and test the program, MSU Extension agents carry it into rural Montana with programs for young people on how to reduce depression and anxiety and build resiliency against life’s inevitable trials. The program is showing great promise, and we hope we can expand it to even more communities in coming years.
MSU Extension agents are bringing a program called Mental Health First Aid to rural counties that helps youth and adults alike identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses.
In such a huge, sparsely populated state as Montana, your university has been looking for new ways to get mental health support to some its remotest corners. The center, along with faculty in the Department of Health and Human Development, have developed an online program called THRIVE that speaks the language of rural Montana to help remove the stigma of mental health support. Again, combined with assistance from our MSU Extension agents, THRIVE appears to have great promise, not only for Montana but for all of rural America.
In MSU’s College of Nursing we are training psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) who can provide specialized care to individuals, families and communities, including pharmacological treatment for depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, schizophrenia and associated conditions, such as opioid and other addictions.
MSU’s College of Nursing graduates roughly 10 PMHNPs annually, significantly increasing the capacity of the health care system to address the mental health needs of Montanans. Additionally, PMHNPs are more likely to choose a career in rural Montana than doctoral-level psychiatrists, filling an important need.
Simultaneously, MSU’s College of Nursing researchers are exploring links between suicides and environmental characteristics while others are investigating the effects of exercise, prayer, meditation, social networks and other interventions on mental health. Still others have federal funding to ensure that clinicians across Montana have the training they need to address opioid addiction and other mental health challenges.
Through other, associated centers, such as the Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity, or CAIRHE, and the Center for Translational Research, CTR, we are devoting research and expertise to the special health challenges, including mental health, of rural Montana and in tribal communities.
Your university is committed to working on this pressing problem through research, through training students and professionals and through outreach into every corner of the state.
Many of us working on this problem have felt the crushing sadness of losing a loved one to suicide. We are with you, Montana, and we will stay committed to this work. We are in it for the long haul.
This opinion is signed by Waded Cruzado, president of Montana State University; Renee Reijo Pera, MSU vice president of research and economic development; Sarah Shannon, dean of the MSU College of Nursing; and Cody Stone, executive director of MSU Extension.