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Suicide prevention among Montana’s senior population

Posted at 7:43 AM, Sep 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-05 09:43:10-04

Following the suicide deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain earlier this summer, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline phone number was shared by many people across the country on social media.

In Montana, the Voices of Hope hotline received increased calls, which director Jackie Gittins says is a good thing because people are reaching out.

Montana continually ranks among the top states in the nation for suicide rates.

Isolation, disconnect, and loneliness can affect any person, but mental health experts say as people age, those feelings, sometimes prompted by circumstance, can be more prevalent. 

“Depression is not a part of aging. Depression is something that happens to an individual, it has nothing to do with their age,” explains licensed professional counselor Maureen McInnis.

“They are kind of the silent population because they are people we stop seeing, they isolate. As they get older and their friends start to die, they don’t have their friends around anymore,” said McInnis.

“Cowboy up,” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” are common mottos in Montana to deal with troubled times, and an approach to life many of the state’s more senior population may have grown up embracing.

“Mental health or any kind of emotion was seen as negative, so nobody wants to be seen as weak, so they see that as a negative.  I can’t go get help for my mental health issues or when I’m feeling depressed because then people will judge me and I’ll be weak, and I don’t want to be weak. So we won’t see anybody,” McInnis said.

Connection is key for providing support to seniors, whether it be a neighbor, at the doctor’s office, a senior center, or hotline. Voices of Hope provides a voice on the other end of the phone that not only provides resources, but it there to listen.

“If we can acknowledge the pain they’re feeling is real, because they’re in pain.  No different than the pain from a broken leg. We can’t see it. And because we can’t see it, they can’t even tell you where it hurts.  It hurts all over,” said Jackie Gittins, Voices of Hope hotline director.

Gittins and McInnis say we all can play a role in changing the culture, and someone’s life by being willing to acknowledge and approach others who are struggling, rather than shy away. 

“Because they’re human beings. It doesn’t matter if you like them if they’ve done you wrong.  They are somebody’s mother, father, grandmother, they do matter to somebody,” Gittins explained.

 “I think it’s good humanity, good neighborliness, I think we should all be looking out for each other whether we’re older or younger,” said McInnis.

The Voice of Hope hotline number for those in the Great Falls area is 406-453-HELP.

Story by: Shannon Newth