The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Suicide rate in Montana Leads the Nation, Blaine County heavily affected


September 11, 2019

Walkers begin the eight mile trek back to Turner after attending service at the Catholic Church. People from all over gathered for the 5th Annual Tristan Billmayer Suicide Awareness Walk. Blaine County has dealt with an unusually large number of suicides this year as well as many additional attempted suicides. Raising awareness is critical to slowing sown the number of attempts and help individuals get the help and support they need.

Montana has been near the top of the list of states with the highest suicide rates in the Nation, but an increase of 38% from 1999-2016 has moved the state to the top of the list.

According to the Center for Disease Control, Montana had a suicide rate of 25.9/100,000 in 2016, nearly double the National average of 13.5/100,000. Blaine County in 2019 has had to deal with several suicides, mainly amongst our youth.

Rural American has a 45% higher risk of suicide than the National Average and Blaine County is rural America. Hays/Lodge Pole has been greatly affected as well as Chinook, Harlem and Turner.

The Tristan Billmayer 5th Annual Suicide Walk is part of the effort to bring awareness to this very serious issue and help those in need get the support and help they so desperately deserve.

The walk was held on Sunday, September 1 and was very well attended with gatherings lasting for most of the day. September is Nation Suicide Awareness Month and Tuesday, September 10 is World Suicide Awareness Day.

The Hogeland-Turner Lions Club served breakfast to start the day. Frank McGuire ran two buses from Turner to the Catholic Church outside of town where walkers would begin their eight mile trek back to town. Tristan's Father Adam said a prayer to the crowd gathered.

A large group was on hand to make the journey from the church back to Turner. Leading the way was the Montana State University Cross Country Team. 2018 Turner graduate and two time Class C 800 Meter Champion Eddie Harmon is part of the Light team and was a close friend of

Tristan's. Harmon's teammates joined him in the effort to help raise suicide awareness.

When folks returned to Turner they made their way to the High School gymnasium where they filled the stands to listen to guest speaker Darla Tyler-McSherry.

Tyler-McSherry is a Native of Big Sandy and spoke to the group about her 82 year old father taking his life. Tyler-McSherry spoke about how it was important to her and a brother to tell their story in hopes it may save others. Her complete story can be found on Her message was simply stated, "Ask in Earnest." Candid and compassionate conversations about suicide for the farm and ranch community.

The Farming Industry is one of the most susceptible to a higher suicide rate, along with Fishing and Forestry.

According to Darla's story: In a place like Montana, where the winters are long and dark, a man is taught to "cowboy up," be independent and not be a burden to others, says Karl Rosston, a licensed clinical social worker who serves as the suicide prevention coordinator for the state's Department of Public Health and Human Services. The stigma attached to mental illness looms large, he says, and depression is "seen as a weakness."

The Billmayer family gathers for a quick photo before the walk begins. They hold many memories of their son, Tristan W. Billmayer. They hold this annual event in hopes suicide awareness might save other lives. Shown is Trent, Sarah, Shawna, Adam, and Ella. May the memories of Tristan be kept close to to them and all who knew him.

It's also a gun culture -- "If you're from Montana, you grew up with guns," Rosston said -- which means access to the most lethal method for suicide comes easy. Nearly two out of three suicides in Montana are by firearm, compared with half for the United States as a whole, he says. Plus, Montana is home to a large number of military veterans and seven Native American reservations -- two groups with disproportionate suicide rates.

Add to this, studies have shown increased rates of depression and suicide linked to factors like pesticides and high altitude. Seven of the top 10 states for suicide rates, according to the CDC list, are in the Mountain States.

Montana has invested in measures to help its residents, including a strategic plan to reduce Native youth suicides. Gov. Steve Bullock announced grants in April to fund online therapy and bring a mental health awareness program into schools.

And then there are individuals like Darla, who hopes in her own passionate way to be part of the solution. She wants to help redefine for farmers -- and for anyone facing a wave of suicidal thoughts -- the meaning of the word strength. It takes strength to speak up and ask for help. It's that kind of strength that might have saved her father's life.


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