We have been focusing on suicide prevention efforts for quite some time, but the number of suicides in the U.S. have increased by more than 60% over the past 17 years. Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan is a UM professor in the Department of Counselor Education and he says national rates have gone from 29,180 deaths from suicide in 1999 to 47,173 deaths in 2017.

“They have consistently risen by about 2% per year, per-capita,” Sommers-Flanagan said. “It is a problem that is of increasing concern as those numbers rise. We are always in the top five in Montana. I was approached by a non-profit in Bozeman asking if I would collaborate with them and to offer public lectures and professional training throughout the state of Montana.”

Big Sky Youth Empowerment is sponsoring these events. Sommers-Flanagan says the lectures and workshops are going to focus on how we should approach suicide in Montana. He thinks the idea of being labeled “mentally ill” is a hurdle and obstacle that gets in the way of people talking openly about this natural part of human experience.

“Having thoughts about suicide is a natural human response to increased personal distress,” Sommers-Flanagan said. “I would like to normalize the whole idea around having suicidal thoughts and being in some distress and instead say this is a normal thing that happens to most of us as humans. What might be useful would be for us to be more open to talking to each other about our distress.”

Sommers-Flanagan will present the first free public lecture from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at Montana State University. The first professional workshop training will follow from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 17. Click here for more information.