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Researching Montana’s ‘deaths of despair’

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Town Crier “Briefs from the Region” (2) – 5/5/21

University of Montana School of Journalism Professor Lee Banville led a research project that looked into 197,000 death reports in Montana in order to better understand “deaths of despair,” or deaths related to suicide, alcohol and drug abuse. While the study revealed a frightening spike in alcohol abuse in 2020, it also showed a drop in suicides, particularly among Native Americans, which experts relate directly to healthcare and government policies enacted during the pandemic.

“This was an interesting part of the reporting because you’re not going to be able to yet say this equaled that, right?” Banville told Montana Public Radio. “So but this drop in suicide rates, or stability and suicide rates in other parts of the state, sort of made us ask, well, has something changed? And we found that something had changed, and that was there had been an explosive growth in telehealth.”

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