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Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell’s Sept. 2 opinion includes harsh truths about suicide in Montana, and helpful suggestions for policy changes to address it. Because a public health crisis demands public policy solutions, all Montanans should advocate for the forward-thinking prevention measures she recommends.

But suicide is the most preventable form of death, and all of us, public officials and private citizens, can play a role in stemming this heartbreaking tide by reaching out a hand of help and hope to those suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.

This week in Missoula, as Suicide Prevention Week commences, we have reason for optimism. Reversing tragic rates of suicide can take decades, but Project Tomorrow Montana, Missoula’s public-private suicide-prevention collaboration, has made important strides.

Each month, Project Tomorrow’s steering committee, which includes representatives of dozens of diverse stakeholders — the health department, mental-health organizations, nonprofits, businesses, local hospitals and health-care providers, the faith community, law enforcement, veterans' organizations, Missoula County Public Schools, the University of Montana, and people grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide — convene to share strategies, pool resources, identify gaps in our community’s response to suicide, develop and advance prevention plans and programs, and support each other.

As a result, more than 4,400 everyday Missoulians, from teens to senior citizens, have been trained in suicide-prevention skills. Nearly 1,000 gun locks have been distributed. Missoula County Public Schools leads the way statewide in suicide prevention among kids, beginning in the early grades. Countless fliers listing the signs of suicide and prevention resources have been distributed countywide. Frontline health-care providers now routinely ask their patients if they are depressed or suicidal — and know the response protocol if the answer is “yes.” Those of us who have successfully sought help for depression increasingly talk about it publicly.

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Project Tomorrow’s message — that suicide is never the only option; that everyone’s tomorrow matters — is resonating. There has been a dramatic increase over the last three years in the number of Missoulians reaching out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help, and a noticeable rise in the number of Missoulians seeking help from local resources, including in-patient care. Missoula County’s suicide rate, while still unacceptably high, has inched downward over the last two years.

We invite all Missoulians to join in preventing suicide, beginning with Suicide Prevention Week activities that launch Sept. 6 with the acclaimed play “Every Brilliant Thing” at MCT (free admission) and conclude Sept. 14 with the Out of the Darkness Walk, raising funds and awareness for suicide prevention. A full schedule of events is found at ProjectTomorrowMT.org.

Preventing suicide is everybody’s business. Please join us in spreading Project Tomorrow Montana’s message of hope and healing.

If you or someone you know is depressed or suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text MT to 741-741.

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Susan Hay Patrick is chief executive officer of United Way of Missoula County and founding chair of Project Tomorrow Montana. 

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