In Montana, the odds are high - too high - that you know someone who has died by suicide. A family member. A friend. A neighbor. A co-worker.

Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation, at nearly 24 deaths per 100,000 people, and in 2013 and 2014, the suicide rate in Missoula was reportedly the highest it's ever been.

Yet suicide is entirely preventable. There are a variety of effective resources available both locally and nationally, if only those considering suicide are connected to them in time.

It's up to each and every one of us to help make those connections. Suicide prevention truly is everyone's business.

The Western Montana Suicide Prevention Initiative, founded last year by United Way of Missoula County, partners with a number of local organizations to increase connectivity and awareness all year round. And during this week's National Suicide Prevention Week events, it is offering a timely opportunity for the community to learn more about the warning signs of suicide - and strategies to help stop it.

This year, the initiative is following up on the success of last year's suicide-prevention summit with a luncheon focused on suicide prevention in the workplace. A study released earlier this year found that this particular kind of suicide is on the rise.

Employees, employers and coworkers are in a unique position to recognize the behavioral changes that often point to suicide. Those who work closely together come to know one another well and can pick up on such changes, which include:

  • Statements about feeling useless or burdensome, wanting to die or having no reason to live.
  • Extreme mood swings ranging from a loss of interest to uncharacteristic aggression.
  • Complaints about sleeping too much or too little.
  • Increased alcohol or drug use.
  • Isolation or withdrawal from recreational activities.
  • Reckless or risky behavior.

Thursday's luncheon promises to equip Missoulians with the information they need to help their coworkers get the help they need. Mental health services are available in Missoula and across Montana, and many employers offer additional resources as well.

And remember, if you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts at any time, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

Missoulian editorial board: Publisher Mark Heintzelman, Editor Matt Bunk, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen.

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