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Recent youth suicides spark meeting at Butte High

Published On: Jan 21 2014 09:16:43 PM MST
Updated On: Jan 21 2014 09:28:12 PM MST
BUTTE, Mont. -

Butte residents band together to tackle a tough issue that's been plaguing the community -- suicide. Recent youth suicides sparked a meeting at Butte High tonight.

It's not just the Mining City facing this issue, in fact Montana has consistently ranked in the top five across the nation for incidents of suicide for 40 years now.

Hundreds of people turned out for a community-wide seminar in the Butte High School auditorium. The focus was on better suicide prevention efforts in the community.

Montana suicide prevention specialist Karl Rosston told the crowd what signs to look for when someone is suicidal, and he taught them what to do if they notice those signs in a friend or family member.

"We want to increase community awareness as much as we can," Rosston said. "And start to destigmatize around the issues of mental illness and suicide."

Suicide is something Montana has struggled with. The Butte-Silver Bow Health Department told us Montana currently ranks third in the nation for suicide and has ranked in the top five for the past 40 years.

Mike Sawicki, with Western Montana Mental Health, told us the health center receives over 1,000 calls per year for suicide and homicide crises across the six counties they cover.

"Butte really struggles," said Sawicki.

Three Butte teens committed suicide recently, bringing the issue to the top of everyone's minds.

Butte high junior Colton Powers was best friends with one of those teens. He attended Tuesday night in honor of his friend and told us he was surprised by everyone who turned out.

"It was heartbreaking," Powers said. "I didn't realize so many people lost people close to them."

Techia Walton is also a junior at Butte High School. She says it's been tough to cope with what happened, but said the meeting was a good start to help heal and move forward.

"Seeing the community come together and try to make the community a better place is helping a lot and its nicer to see everyone together instead of apart," Walton said.

Butte resident Mary Wohlman agrees. "It's unfortunate that something like this has to bring us all together as a community," said Wohlman. "But now that we're coming together as a community we will be able to function more and will be able to understand more."

Sawicki told us after Tuesday's meeting they hope to "get a sense of what direction the community might want to go...and to be present to support people who might need a shoulder."