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For many years, Montana and similar rural states (such as Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming) have been consistently among the regions with the very high suicide rates. Based upon the most available tabulated data, the Centers for Disease Control reported in 2018 that Montana had the highest rate of suicide in the nation, once again. In fact, the rate was twice the national average and that national rate was the highest in 30 years. Many of these Montana suicides are by Native Americans, adolescents and veterans and more than 50 percent are by firearm.

What can be done?

Broadly, all methods of suicidal attempt are not necessarily fatal and those rescued do not always go on to fatal incidents. However, self-harm actions by firearm are highly lethal. That lethality prevents any option for later rescue, intervention or treatment of disposing conditions such as depression, psychosis, or extreme desperation.

Recently, many states have shown benefit from new legal tools that can reduce firearm violence and suicide by firearm. These are called Extreme Risk Protection Orders (or “Red Flag” Orders) which attempt to limit the access to firearms to those at risk of injury to themselves or others. Additional potentially useful laws might mandate secure storage of firearms against unauthorized use.

Will Montana continue with historically high suicide numbers or will our state take action to reduce suicidal events by firearm? Let’s ask the 2019 Legislature while we await the next CDC report.

John Mott, MD

Helena

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