Community Based Media Project
Suicide has ravaged eastern Montana, an area known for its sparse population, extreme climate range, and "cowboy up" mentality and culture. In 2005, Montana had the highest suicide rate in the nation. The Mountain states all share similar qualities that make them ripe for high suicide rates. These states are often socially isolated, have a lack of public services to help with depression and thoughts of suicide and there is often easy access to firearms. In response to this need, an awareness campaign called Let's Talk was created. It was designed to help people living in Miles City be comfortable communicating with each other about suicide and depression: expressing their own feelings, or listening to the feelings of others. The initial campaign was localized in Miles City, MT – Let's Talk Miles City – with plans to expand to other neighboring communities. For more information, please visit the Let's Talk website at letstalkmilescity.com.
Theater Production Explores Being a Teenager in Miles City
Free Live Performance
WHERE: VA Auditorium, 210 South Winchester Avenue
WHEN: Friday, September 7, 2012
SCHEDULE: 6:30 pm - Dinner ($5 donation), 7:00 pm - Introductory Remarks and Play
Let's Talk Miles City is a live performance created and performed by local teens. It explores the topics of suicide and depression among young people. The production is the result of a 2012 summer workshop that introduced Miles City teens to the theater arts.
MSUB theater director and undergraduate student Miriam Veltman of Billings spent 10 weeks working with Miles City young people. The resulting live performance aims to provide the community with an alternative form of expression for feelings of suicide and depression. To create the play, teens chose materials relevant to the cause of suicide prevention and also wrote their own works about an issue that is ravaging the entire state. As a team, the teenagers and Veltman created a collaborative piece dedicated to Eastern Montana. The overall message focuses on becoming more aware, speaking up, seeking help or intervening to save your life and the lives of others. The teens truly hope the community is inspired by the performance.
A Let's Talk Miles City reception will be held at the Custer County Art & Heritage Center on Saturday, Sept. 8th, 2012 at 4 pm after the Out of the Darkness Walk. The reception will feature photographs by local teens and a presentation by Dr. Sarah Keller of Montana State University Billings.
Community Based Media Project Suicide Prevention Update - June 29, 2012
Summer Workshops - Three workshops have been developed and will be offered to Miles City young people this summer.
- Saturday, June 30, 2012: a photography workshop will be held in conjunction with the Custer County Art & Heritage Center
- June 30, 2012: multimedia workshops will be held throughout the summer - began June 25, next workshop June 30, future date TBA
- July 2 - September 7, 2012: 10-week theatre workshop in conjunction with the Barn Players
- Each workshop is being conducted by a MSUB student. All the students have received a mental health training "mini" session given by members of the LAC. They will be prepared if a young person approaches them about feelings of depression or suicide.
- Two of the MSUB students will also be attending the 2-day Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshop being held in Broadus July 17-18
These workshops are open to all young people from Miles City and surrounding areas. Please spread the word! We need your support and involvement to make the workshops a success. CBMP supporters are also invited to attend.
Corporate Sponsors: CBMP leaders approached WalMart about providing gift certificates to all students who participate in the workshops over the summer. We are also planning on providing certificates to others who attend a workshop. Our plan is to hand out the certificates at the theatre workshop presentation on September 7, 2012.
Press Coverage: The Miles City Star ran an article featuring information on the workshops on Thursday, June 21, 2012.
Let's Talk Website and Social Media
- The Let's Talk Miles City website is now being designed by a Miles Community College student. We have reached agreement with www.milescity.com to host the website, and provide technical support if necessary.
- Our Facebook page will go live on Friday, June 29, 2012, the day before the photography workshop
- The Let's Talk Miles City logo is now being designed by artist Sean Taylor Chapman
Survey Progess and Update on Partnership with Montana State University
The survey we announced in our previous CBMP newsletter has been completed for the population of students at Custer County High School. This social science research project is being conducted in partnership with Montana State University Billings (MSUB). As described by Dr. Sarah Keller, this research involves a three-pronged approach to identifying strategies for suicide prevention in Montana:
- A quantitative survey to evaluate the community-based media intervention to promote awareness and use of suicide prevention resources
- A qualitative study of the barriers to public health models for suicide prevention and modifications needed to improve community interventions
- A quantitative survey to identify social support factors related to suicide ideation among youth
Dr. Sarah Keller and some of her students visited Miles City on June 19. They met with members of the LAC, toured the town, met with GHEF Board Members, and visited the Art & Heritage Center to discuss collaborating on the photo workshop and on other CBMP activities.
The Out of the Darkness Walk will be held on September 8, 2012. CBMP activities are focused around this weekend, including the premiere of the theatrical production, the official unveiling of the website, the posting of the workshop video and photographs on the website, the handing out of certificates to the students, the press relations campaign, and more.
Our Let's Talk campaign, a media-based, community-supported program that fosters communication about suicide and depression is being developed under the auspices of Global Health Equity Foundation's Community Based Media Project (CBMP).
For more information contact Matthew Eisen, CBMP Project Manager, at email@example.com
The Community Based Media Project (CBMP) focusing on suicide prevention in the Miles City region is making great strides.
Dr. Sarah Keller at Montana State University Billings, and Scott Rapson, Counselor at Custer County District High School, have conducted a survey of all high school students regarding depression and suicide. In the spring of 2013 the survey will be conducted again to provide data on the potential impact of our project.
Scott Rapson has been providing assistance on many aspects of the project. For example, Scott will help us enlist high school students to participate in the theater workshop and in the photo workshop that will be conducted over the summer of 2012.
A team of students from the Department of Communication & Theater at Montana State University Billings (MSUB) will assist in the design and implementation of the Let's Talk Miles City campaign. The team includes:
- Miriam Veltman, a Theater graduate who recently staged a production of a suicide prevention play at MSUB.
- Michelle Strain, who just received her Masters at MSUB, will be focusing on the social media and outreach elements of the campaign.
- Ally Madden, a photographer, will conduct the photo workshop with teens. The resulting photos will be included in the website and used in other promotional materials.
- Tucker Inman, a MSUB major in Organizational Communications, will help with the logistical aspects of the workshops and campaign.
The Custer County Local Advisory Council (LAC) has been collaborating with Global Health Equity Foundation (GHEF) on every aspect of the CBMP. The LAC will be conducting an Out of the Darkness Walk in Miles City on Saturday, September 8, 2012.
The CBMP will plan its activities to coincide with the Out of the Darkness Walk. CBMP activities will include presenting the teen theater production and the photo exhibition. The Let's Talk Miles City website will also be unveiled shortly before September 8.
Website development news: A student at Miles Community College will be designing the Let's Talk Miles City website. We are also in discussions with the webmaster of www.milescity.com to ensure the two sites complement each other, and to take advantage of the extensive reach of milescity.com.
Project Director Matthew Eisen will be in Miles City May 21–24, 2012. The student team will join him in Miles City on Wednesday, May 23, 2012, to meet with high school students and community members.
Please join us for a reception for Matthew Eisen and the students on May 23, 2012, at GHEF's office, 615 Main Street, at 5:30pm. Contact Rani Alhafez for more information, 406-234-5082. Refreshments will be served.
My long-term dream is to create a bridge, an ongoing partnership, between Montana State University and the CBMP in Miles City.
— Dr. Sarah Keller, Montana State University Billings
Global Health Equity Foundation (GHEF) is renewing its commitment to Eastern Montana and to the Community Based Media Project. The Foundation invites you to a community meeting on March 21st, 2012, at 5:00 pm, at GHEF's office, 615 Main Street in Miles City. We have exciting news to share, and we look forward to hearing from the community. It is your input that is most valuable.
GHEF is pleased to announce that Matthew Eisen, who visited Miles City in February and earned unanimous support at our Executive Board meeting, is the new CBMP Project Manager.
For over 25 years I have created media projects and outreach campaigns to address difficult social issues. My most successful projects featured individuals dedicated to solving challenging and serious problems. I am passionate about focusing on solutions. Suicide is a devastating event, and a very complex issue. I know there are no easy answers, and of all the projects I've completed over the years, this might be the most challenging. (Issues I've addressed in the past include AIDS, substance abuse, broken health care systems, and child abuse.)
I look forward to meeting and working with you, and to helping develop a campaign that will have a positive impact in Miles City. I see my role as a facilitator. Together we can create something that in the end will be owned by, and sustained by, you and your community.
— Matthew Eisen, Executive Producer, Crosskeys Media, firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew will return to Miles City during the week of March 19th to meet with community leaders, and to participate in the CBMP meeting on the night of March 21st.
Update on CBMP Accomplishments
- Professor Chris Heginbotham from University of Warwick in England has joined our CBMP team. Professor Heginbotham specializes in mental health and is collaborating with Matthew Eisen and with Dr. Sarah Keller to define our goals, and to guide our research efforts.
- Dr. Sarah Keller and her students in the department of Communication & Theater at MSUB have pledged their support to the project. Dr. Keller met with our team on several occasions and is providing academic guidance in conducting our survey. She also provides local perspective, and has the combination of skills needed to recommend viable and sustainable intervention programs to mitigate suicide in Eastern Montana.
- GHEF has engaged Paul Jackson, a renowned statistician who resides in Geneva, Switzerland. Mr. Jackson has analyzed the existing data and will continue to work with our scientific team to further our understanding of the variables specific to Eastern Montana. Identification of these variables will help us to determine the most appropriate intervention moving forward.
I am excited about offering my students the opportunity to engage with a new kind of "media for social change" project, one that is community-based and grassroots in nature. I believe that exposing my students to the CBMP in Miles City will motivate them to apply their communication education to change lives in the future.
— Dr. Sarah Keller, MSUB
Out of the Darkness Walk Video
Here are the highlights from the Walk for Suicide Prevention, September 11, 2011. It was a heartwarming and successful event.
Local and International Foundations Support Suicide Awareness Campaign in Miles City
Contacts: Kasey Stanton , Research Intern, 406.853.4842 • Global Health Equity Foundation, 406.951.2080
In a community ravaged by suicide, individual efforts have been made to address the issue and instigate lasting positive change. Despite these efforts, suicide has remained prevalent in Miles City and eastern Montana, and has resulted in the loss of lives even within the last month. A unified and collaborative approach may be necessary to end the crisis of suicide in our community.
Global Health Equity Foundation plans to merge previous efforts into a single, interactive approach. Attacking the problem head on will truly make a significant impact in eastern Montana. Global Health Equity Foundation is a non-profit organization seeking to address challenges faced by health and mental health care providers in rural areas. The Foundation serves as a catalyst for community awareness, communication, and involvement. Already, several community forums have been held to facilitate discussion. GHEF is sponsoring a documentary film as part of a Community Media Based Project with a focus on suicide.
While there have been groups and individuals, such as the Local Advisory Committee and Holy Rosary Healthcare, who have sought to increase suicide awareness, the issue has been covered up or ignored by many others. For a significant impact to be made, involvement in suicide prevention and awareness of warning signs, and of what those struggling with mental illness may be facing needs to be nurtured in our community.
Having community leaders interested and active is a great start, but it is the community as a whole who must act if the issue is to be resolved. GHEF will continue to hold community forums, and will provide print publications to present the objectives of the Foundation and information on suicide in order to spur community awareness and involvement.
Photo ©Leland Howard, www.lelandhoward.com
Suicide is a grave concern in Eastern Montana. According to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, suicide ranked as the second-leading cause of death for three age groups, ranging from 10-34 years old. In Miles City alone, there have been many unfortunate incidences of people taking their own lives. Although suicide among adolescents and young adults may be the most commonly recognized and publicized, the elderly have the highest rate of suicide nationally, and suicide remained as the third-leading cause of death for those 35-44, and suicide ranks fourth for people aged 45-54.
Suicide is harmful not only to individuals, but clearly to families, friends, and communities. Ken Holmlund, who lost his son Kevin to suicide, is among many eastern Montanans who have lost a family member to suicide. Holmlund’s son Kevin committed suicide when he was 17 years old, and Holmlund now uses his ability as an orator to share his story, although he admits the topic is never an easy one to present. Kevin was a talented young man involved in Key Club and Speech and Drama. He was a math whiz who had been accepted to study engineering and robotics at Purdue University. Holmlund described his son as a “good kid who made a serious mistake.” While Holmlund knows firsthand that losing a child is incredibly difficult, he also suggested putting an emphasis on siblings and other family members left behind, “who may feel alone and need just as much help as parents.”
When asked how authorities in Miles City and the surrounding area can best meet the needs of families after a suicide crisis, Holmlund advised training public officials and workers who respond to such cases. A long-time friend who was serving as police officer for the Miles City task force informed Holmlund about Kevin’s suicide.
“It is devastating to tell someone their child is gone, and there needs to be more emphasis on training people in these roles,” said Holmlund. “Nobody has the right words to say, but being there to listen without passing judgment is critical.”
On being questioned about the best way to diminish the occurrence of suicide in eastern Montana, Holmlund advises reaching kids at a young age to educate them on the severity and permanence of suicide. Suicide has occurred even among middle school students in Miles City. Middle school can be a difficult age where a great deal of change may occur as new relationships form and adolescents seek an identity for themselves. Holmlund also feels bullying and a lack of activities for youth only exacerbate the problem. A youth center or outlet for kids would be especially beneficial.
In eastern Montana stigma against mental illness makes combating suicide even more challenging. It is easy to overlook the symptoms and severity of mental illness, and many people disregard it entirely. Holmlund said his personal views on mental illness have evolved through all of his experiences, and he realizes how drastically mental illness can distress people
“In most cases people are not feigning mental illness,” said Holmlund, “It is really serious, and it really does affect people.”
Holmlund believes his son Kevin may have had some chemical imbalance that contributed to his state, and, after losing his son he faced a bout of depression.
“Don’t ignore it,” Holmlund urges, “It won’t get better by itself.”
Unfortunately, Kevin and Ken Holmlund’s story is only one of many in eastern Montana. To truly make an impact in reducing suicide, not just for teens but for Montanans of all ages, unity and the dissemination of knowledge are necessary. Action and involvement is needed, and Holmlund urges remembering those who have been lost to suicide. Recently at a class reunion, Kevin’s former classmates conducted a remembrance in honor of Kevin and visited the family.
Alongside the work being conducted by Global Health Equity Foundation, an Out of the Darkness Walk, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will be held on September 11, 2011. Ken Holmlund will speak at this event, giving a full account of his family’s story.
Direct any questions about Global Health Equity Foundation and its objectives to email@example.com. Feel free to stop by the GHEF office in the US Bank Building at 615 Main in Miles City.
Global Health Equity Foundation engages in three core strategies - Research, Advocacy and Capacity Building. Read more.