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Butte-Silver Bow Health Department

The Butte-Silver Bow Health Department is located at 25 W. Front St.

Montana continues to have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, with veterans in our state at particular risk.

That’s according to a fact sheet issued recently by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services’ Office of Epidemiology and Scientific Support, which relays that veterans account for one of every five suicides in the state.

In 2016, the suicide rate for Montana veterans stood at 70.4 deaths per 100,000 population, much higher than the non-veteran rate of 29.0 deaths per 100,000. Veterans comprise 13 percent of Montana’s population, 18 years and older.

Data for the fact sheet were gathered by reviewing death certificates collected by the state’s Office of Vital Records from 2013 through 2016. While focused on veteran suicide, the fact sheet noted that the suicide rate in Montana, from 1999 through 2015, increased from 17.7 to 25.3 deaths per 100,000 population, a 30 percent increase, while the rate for the rest of the country increased 21 percent during that time, from 10.5 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 population.

Death certificates provide “a convenient but imperfect tool to describe suicides,” says the fact sheet. “While the death certificate provides a field asking whether the decedent was ever in the armed forces, it does not distinguish between active duty, the Reserves or National Guard membership … while the death certificate is able to reliably identify military services, research has suggested that there may be vulnerable subgroups such as active duty personnel.”

The fact sheet quotes suicide researcher Martha Bruce: “Military service increases the risk of injury, which in turn increases the risk of long-term disability, which serves to increase the risk of depression, joblessness and social isolation — all of which together increase suicide risk.”

Adds the fact sheet: “Individual risk factors for suicide and suicidal behavior among veterans may include experiencing a traumatic event (that is, serving in combat), having depression, anxiety, post-traumatic disorder, or history of suicide ideation of attempted suicide.”

The fact sheet says veteran suicide from 2013 through 2016 peaked sharply at 101.1 deaths per 100,000 population in the age group of 18 years to 29 years, and again in the group defined as age 80 and older, 75.7 deaths per 100,000 population.

Additionally, suicide rates were highest in veterans who were single and never married and those who were married. The rates were lower for veterans who were divorced or separated or widowed. The rate was highest among veterans who’d attended some college but received no degree, as opposed to those who’d graduated high school only or received an associate’s degree or higher.

Suicide rates were highest in Montana’s rural counties. “At the community and societal levels, Montana is a rural state that lacks both access and availability to healthcare and mental health services and has a high rate of gun ownership,” says the fact sheet — firearms were the most common means of suicide for both veterans and non-veterans in the state. The proportion of deaths by drug poisoning and suffocation caused by hanging was higher among non-veterans than veterans.

The fact sheet provides a variety of resources to prevent suicide. They include:

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) – press 1 for veterans (

• Text “mt” to 741741 to access trained crisis counselors, 24/7

• Montana National Guard members may access resources through their Employee Assistance Program at Reliant Behavioral Health,

• Non-medical counseling is available for active military and their immediate family members at Military One Source, 1-800-342-9647 (

• The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Coaching into Care Program, helps veterans and their family members connect with resources available at their local VA and/or in their community 1-888-823-7458 (

Karen Sullivan is Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer and Director of the Health Department. Her column, The Public's Health, appears weekly on The Montana Standard's health page.


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