Preventing Suicide Through Early and Universal Mental Health Training

Mar 2016

Montana universities are taking steps to address suicide epidemic

Texas suicide lawyerAt the first ever Montana Suicide Prevention Summit last month, advocates for suicide prevention called for mental health and emotional education for the general public, starting at the grade school level.

Marny Lombard, the mother of a Montana State University student who died by suicide in 2013, and Karl Rosston, the suicide prevention coordinator for Montana’s Department of Health and Human Services, were among the key speakers at the summit. Both emphasized the need to prepare ordinary people to recognize and appropriately address suicide risk factors rather than relying exclusively on mental health professionals.

Montana has the nation’s highest suicide rate, nearly double the national average. Every other state in the Rocky Mountain region is close to the top as well. And while some suicide risk factors, such as altitude, are geographically fairly unique to the Rockies, most hold significance nationwide.

Rosston cited several suicide risk factors common in Montana and the surrounding states, including social isolation, easy access to firearms, high rates of alcohol consumption and a social stigma against mental illness. Many people in the West, particularly men, are uncomfortable seeking professional help for depression or emotional health – and that’s true in other parts of the country as well.

That means friends and family must play a key role in encouraging, supporting and protecting people at risk of suicide. Lombard pointed out that at-risk college students are much more likely to turn to their friends than professors or mental health professionals.

Friends and family members can help to prevent inpatient suicide

Even in cases where at-risk persons are already receiving professional help, friends and family play a hugely important role in preventing suicide. The unfortunate reality is that many mental health professionals lack the training and experience to recognize and appropriately address the warning signs that a person is at risk of death by suicide.

Friends and family members who know a person’s interests, background and personality are especially well-equipped to recognize early signs that a person may be at risk. Even when mental health professionals have the necessary training – and, again, many do not – there is no substitute for actually knowing the person.

Relatives and close friends of people in inpatient care need to be their advocates and their support system. Frequent visits and phone calls not only reduce the feeling of isolation that leads to many suicides, but also provide opportunities for loved ones to recognize those warning signs and work with caregivers to appropriately intervene.

Unfortunately, many mental health professionals fail to take appropriate steps to help patients at risk of suicide, even when they are warned of the danger. When that happens, friends and family members with some training in mental health are well-equipped to hold negligent caregivers accountable.

Skip Simpson has a couple of recommendations to understand what a friend or loved one can do to better understand how to help.  First, obtain training from the QPR Institute. There are three steps anyone can learn to help prevent suicide: Question, Persuade, and Refer.  See

Also, there is a quick read called “The Suicide Lawyers: Exposing Lethal Secrets” wherein Skip Simpson and his then partner were interviewed about what Skip Simpson had learned in his years of litigating suicide cases. Skip heard many clients say after starting litigation “if I had only known.” Skip Simpson wanted everyone to know what to look for and what to do before tragedy hit a friend, loved one, business colleague or anyone.

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