A Yellowstone Country group committed to preventing suicides in Montana plans to discuss how to work with Billings School District 2 to make sure suicide prevention training is offered and is, in fact, taking place.

The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Yellowstone Valley has placed the discussion on its February agenda.

SD2 has in the past been criticized for not doing more to prevent suicides in a state that has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, nearly twice the national average. Coalition members said the group's desire to work more closely with SD2 on suicide prevention is not in any way an attack on the school district and its efforts.

"I do not believe anyone on the coalition is unhappy with the work of the school district regarding (its) current suicide prevention training efforts," said Nathan Stahley, chair of the group. "We understand that mental health and suicide prevention are very complex issues that require very complex solutions. (We) are here to serve the schools and community to the best of our abilities."

In 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 243 suicides in Montana for an average of 20 per month, according to the final report for 2014 from the Montana Suicide Review Team. Of those 243 suicides, 37 were youth, age 24 and younger.

Firearms continue to be the primary means by which Montanans take their lives, according to the report, constituting 61 percent of the suicides. Of the 37 youth who died by suicide, 57 percent used a firearm.

The timing of the discussion is also right, Stahley said.

Over the past few months, two new members have joined the Coalition; both work for School District 2 attend the monthly meetings.

"We feel they have brought insight and opportunity for working more closely with the schools," Stahley said.

In addition, the Yellowstone Youth Crisis Network recently hired a coordinator who is working out of the Lincoln Center and is focused on youth crisis diversion.

The Coalition's discussions at the February meeting will serve as an opportunity to identify current work in the schools and how the coalition may better assist the district in its continued efforts toward a healthy community of children and families, Stahley said.

Joan Nye, a member of the Coalition and chair of the Montana Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said the planned discussion also stems in part from a 2015 regulation that urges school districts to provide suicide prevention training for school staff.

"Not all school districts have made time for this type of training or provided it for staff other than their counselors in the past," Nye said. "Since our Coalition has several (suicide prevention) trainers, we just want to make sure that SD2 knows this and that we are available to help the district make it happen."

Coalition meetings are held from noon to 1 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at RiverStone Health, 123 S. 27th St.

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