By Therese Picasso-Edwards

Montana has the highest suicide rate in the country. States of Mind, a four-part series on mental health, sought to address this troubling statistic. On Wednesday, February 20th, the series had its final installment with the presentation of The S Word, a powerful documentary about suicide. The film was shown both at Red Lodge High School for the student body and again at the Roosevelt Center. Following the film, a panel discussion was held which included:  Red Lodge police chief Jason Wells, local therapist Julie McMillin and Heather Briggs, program director at Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation, who shared how suicide has impacted her life.

Suicide rates are rising and far too many lives have been affected. When we hear people talk about having suicidal thoughts what can we say or do to dissuade them? Julie McMillin stated there may not be a perfect thing to say, but saying nothing may be a mistake. The S Word suggests “Don’t underestimate your ability to help someone remember their reasons to live.” Checking in on friends or loved ones who are showing signs of crisis can save a life. When Heather was 15, she and a boyfriend stopped to check on a friend who was expressing suicidal thoughts. By being there she gave him two powerful things:  friendship and time. Taking the time to visit and listen, she helped him through his darkest hours and reminded him that people care and wanted him around. 

Never underestimate the power of a phone call and do not be afraid to call local law enforcement. Far too often we worry about upsetting someone by contacting authorities, especially our students. Chief Wells stressed to the high school students to contact him if they have any concerns about someone who might be suicidal or if they are struggling themselves. He gave an example of a person from out of town who contacted the police expressing worry about a local friend who was contemplating ending their life. The police made a welfare check and was able to prevent a suicide.

The need for suicide education and outreach is great and there are plans to expand the program to other high schools in Carbon County. States of Mind is a collaborative effort between Red Lodge High School and RLACF.  If you would like to learn more about The S Word or have suggestions for other topics for a States of Mind mental health series, please contact Therese Picasso-Edwards at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 446-2820 or

If you or a loved one are in crisis and/or having thoughts of suicide contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- TALK (8255) or text 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.