All Saints in Big Sky, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention address Montana’s 2020 ranking for third-highest suicide rate in the US
By Julia Barton DIGITAL PRODUCER
BIG SKY – All Saints in Big Sky has partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to bring an awareness program to Big Sky preceding September’s National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The event, Talk Saves Lives, will be hosted at BASE on Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
Through a one-hour presentation given by program manager for the Montana and Wyoming chapters of AFSP Tracy Rassley, Talk Saves Lives hopes to provide people in the community with the tools they need to address potential suicide risk.
Part of awareness is understanding suicide’s historical and statistical backdrop. Montana’s suicide statistics are particularly hard to swallow. In 2020, the national suicide rate per 100,000 was 13.48. In Montana, the rate was nearly double at 25.88, the third-highest rate in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tracy Rassley, the program manager for the Montana and Wyoming chapters of AFSP, said there are many factors contributing to the state’s high suicide rates, including: above-average access to lethal means; a lack of counseling and psychiatric resources; a lack of vitamin D; and a pervasive “cowboy up, pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude.
As a result, Rassley thinks it’s vitally important for Montanans to have access to programs such as Talk Saves Lives. She has been participating in and leading such programs with AFSP in the region since 2015, after losing her 19-year-old son, Patrick, to suicide.
“I was, up until that moment, blissfully unaware of how bad Montana was as far as the statistics for suicide go,” Rassley said. “I really felt like I needed to do something to change that and see if I could make a difference somehow.”
As a program director for AFSP, Rassley organizes and hosts presentations such as Talk Saves Lives across the region.
Sarah Peterson, a part-time Big Sky resident who is on the outreach committee for the local All Saints Episcopal and Lutheran congregation, facilitated the partnership for the Big Sky event.
Two years ago, Peterson’s granddaughter took her own life just weeks after her 12th birthday.
“We had absolutely no clue,” Peterson said. “If there were signs, we didn’t know what to look for.”
Talk Saves Lives is AFSP’s most popular program, spreading awareness about the issue in Montana and providing resources on common risk factors and warning signs associated with suicide. The goal: to help people like Rassley and Peterson recognize potential suicides and offer them appropriate aid.
Various versions of Talk Saves Lives are also curated to specific audiences, including LBGTQ, workplace and senior communities.
“I know that I’m most parent’s worst nightmare,” Rassley said. “However, let me be the nightmare, let me talk to you about some of the things that maybe would have changed the outcome in our life had we had this conversation, so that this nightmare isn’t yours—that is my biggest goal.”
The event welcomes any and all community members to BASE for the presentation and has no religious affiliation, Peterson said.
“My hope for the event is that there’ll be somebody—maybe more than one person—in the audience who will be able to spot the signs of somebody who might be planning suicide, and they’ll know to respond to it,” Peterson said. “If somebody else like my granddaughter can be saved, it will be worth any little bit of effort I’ve put into it.”
AFSP hosts annual Out of the Darkness Walk fundraisers to support its mission of providing awareness, resources and research about suicide, as well as offering the community an opportunity to come together over mental health and suicide. The Bozeman walk is scheduled for Sept. 10, and other walks across the state will take place over the course of the month.