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Amid a state wide suicide crisis, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte announced

funding available to expand existing suicide screening services. 

The $2.1 million grant was announced days after the Montana State Legislature voted down a measure that would have expanded the service to all students. Republicans argued that suicide prevention has developed into an industry with no results to show.

The Rural Behavioral Health Institute already receives state grant funds to screen 5,000 middle and high school students for suicide risk and provide same day care for students deemed at risk.

Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. The youth suicide rate in Montana is twice the national average.

The report showed the state’s highest rate of suicide between 2011 and 2020 were indigenous people, 32 people out of 100,000, though indigenous Montanan’s make up six percent of the population. of the state’s population. National data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2021 showed that 16 percent of Native American and Alaska Native high schoolers had attempted suicide over the prior year.

Tribal leaders on rural reservations, such as Fort Peck in northeastern Montana, worried the pandemic would lead to a spike in child suicide deaths.

Other data from the CDC that the Rural Behavioral Health Institute shared with lawmakers last year shows that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 44 in Montana. Most recently, eight teenagers died by suicide over a span of 16 months in northwestern Montana.

The initiative announced by Gianforte would build on a pilot project by the Rural Behavioral Health Institute called Screening Linked to Care, which screened more than 1,000 students in 10 Montana schools from 2020 to 2022. 

Janet Lindow, executive director of the institute, said screenings are a key component in identifying students who may be suicidal.

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