Mental Health Month time to provide education, awareness

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May is Mental Health Month nationwide, and in Montana, this is a topic that affects many people in the local area. In recent years, mental and behavioral health providers, clinics, and nonprofit organizations have made great efforts to de-stigmatize mental health, increase education and resources, integrate services, and invest in suicide prevention and awareness.

During Mental Health Month, the North Valley Hospital Foundation is kicking off a fundraising effort to support the Nate Chute Foundation in suicide prevention and awareness programs and adding equipment and services at North Valley Behavioral Health in the Whitefish area.

This effort is in response to some difficult statistics — with rates of suicide that are nearly double the national average, Montana consistently has some of the highest occurrences of suicide in the country in nearly all age groups.

Both the 2015 and 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment reports, completed by North Valley Hospital, Kalispell Regional Healthcare, and the Flathead Valley Health Department, identified mental and behavioral health as one of the top healthcare needs in the valley.

“At NVBH, we have added more services to treat mental illness, since it was first identified as one of the major local health needs by the Community Health Needs Assessment,” says Deven Robinson, NP-C at North Valley Behavioral Health. “As a community coming together, we will hopefully be able to improve the treatment and prevention of mental illness.”

Since 2015, just at North Valley Hospital, there have been six providers added to the treatment team at North Valley Behavioral Health, who each bring a unique specialty to the clinic.

Also, the School Based Health Clinic in Columbia Falls includes behavioral health services through the work of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker employed by the North Valley Professional Center. The new Eureka School Based Health Clinic includes behavioral telehealth services to meet the need in Eureka. Clearly, there is progress being made but there is still more to be done as a community.

Mental health and suicide awareness and prevention for youth is a particular concern. According to The Nate Chute Foundation, a close partner with North Valley Hospital in suicide prevention and mental health issues, “While rates of suicide in the Flathead have begun to slightly decrease, the youth rate remains alarmingly high. According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, during the 12 months before the survey, 9.5 percent of all Montana students in grades 9-12 and 14.8 percent of seventh- and eight-graders had made a suicide attempt. The Nate Chute Foundation works with experts in the mental and behavioral health field to understand contributing factors, educate the community to identify signs and symptoms of potential suicide risks, and learn how to appropriately and compassionately respond, all of which are aspects of effective prevention efforts.”

One of the concerns cited by community members and parents about youth suicide is that it is difficult to address, which is something the Nate Chute Foundation hopes to help families with by providing resources on how to approach the topic. The Nate Chute Foundation explains that their programs “use evidence based best practice models to empower the community to talk openly about this complicated subject and to prioritize mental and emotional wellness.”

Allison Linville handles marketing and community relations for North Valley Hospital.

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