Butte's Suicide Prevention Coalition has branched out to include a teen leader and more mental health entities in the community.
Increasingly, symptoms of suicide risk are tied to mental health issues –- often depression.
Paul Thomas LaFleur, Butte Central High sophomore, showed up at the monthly coalition meeting on Thursday.
He has a good reason for being there.
He said he suffered from depression recently, yet he eventually talked himself into taking action. He fought off the fear, the stigma, the silence.
“Most kids are afraid to go get help,” he told 20 coalition leaders. “That’s what I was like. I was afraid that people would treat me differently if I got help. Then when I got help, I realized people were happy that I did.”
The group – all adults – welcomed LaFleur and assured him it will do everything in its power to provide him with support and resources to help his classmates forgo the stigma of talking about mental illness.
“I think that’s a perfect way we’re trying to destigmatize mental health,” said Pat Prendergast, Butte Cares president.
Breaking down the social stigma of mental illness is the core goal of Project Aware, a program that started in the school district in January.
One of Project Aware’s programs is Signs of Suicide, or SOS, aimed to help middle- and high-school students understand the relationship between depression and suicide and teach peer intervention when a friend is at-risk.
A parents support group is another coalition program that has taken off. Open to the public, it is aimed at parents of developmentally disabled children and/or children who also have mental-health issues.
Butte 4-Cs sponsors the group in partnership with the Butte Community Council, an early-childhood coalition of 35 organizations, and the Montana Mental Health Coalition.
Together, they team with other coalition members to provide support where it’s needed.
“Any time you are supporting the healthy development of children, you’re supporting families and putting different resources into their hands to help them,” Butte 4C’s Director Brenda Hergott told The Montana Standard after the coalition meeting.
Also making progress in the awareness realm: licensed grief counselor Melody Rice.
Rice has visited six Butte High classrooms in lieu of holding after-school grief counseling sessions for students who may struggle with depression, thoughts of suicide or the loss of a loved one.
Butte had a cluster of teen suicides in late 2013 and early 2014 that sent peers and families reeling.
Altogether, Rice said 83 of 140 students she spoke to indicated they had a close friend or family member die of suicide.
However, the same students, mostly seniors in government and English classes, said they were not interested in attending a grief group. Yet 105 admitted her presentation was helpful.
At least eight students asked Rice point blank: “What took you so long?”
“I absolutely agree with that question,” Rice told the coalition. “What is the right approach? The more we have conversations about it, the better.”
Her next stop is visiting Butte Central High students in the classroom before the end of the school year.
Seeking help for depression is not disgraceful.
“We gotta get kids to know that it makes them better,” added LaFleur.