Montana Broadcasters Launch Suicide-Prevention Campaign

The Montana Broadcasters Association has teamed up with the state governor to run PSAs on suicide—a major problem for the state.

Montana has the third-highest suicide rate in the nation. The Montana Broadcasters Association decided to step up and do something about it—by using its reach to spread awareness through radio and TV spots. In partnership with Governor Steve Bullock, MBA launched the campaign on May 31.

The association, along with the Montana Television Network and the Montana Radio Company, produced the spots, and they will run for a year. MBA has asked its 155 TV and radio station members to air the spots at least 35 times per month.

“We have the biggest voice in the state, and we can get the word out. Broadcasters feel a responsibility to their communities,” said Dewey Bruce, MBA’s president and CEO. “Suicide in Montana touches just about everybody,” and members “report on it as newspeople” but also have personal connections to suicide, he said.

The campaign is run through the association’s Non-Commercial Sustaining Announcement Program, which allows nonprofit organizations and state agencies to buy ads at discounted rates. But MBA waived the fees for the suicide-awareness spots. Their value is estimated at more than $200,000.

The idea originated with an MBA member who talked about it during a press conference, and it rapidly gained support throughout the association. “The broadcasting community came together to do this,” Bruce said. By reaching a wide audience through radio and TV, the campaign aims to “put the entire state to work to try to lower the suicide rate.”

The team met with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to make sure the ads were conveying the right messages. The ads can be accessed on the Department of Public Health and Human Services website. They are short and compelling; Bruce called the producers’ work “absolutely amazing.”

The ads focus on these main issues: recognizing the signs of suicide, veterans and youth who are at risk, and safe storage of firearms for the demographic group at the highest risk—men between 35 and 64. From January 2014 to March 2016, there were 555 suicides in Montana, and 22 percent were veterans.

The PSAs speak to people who might be suicidal as well as the people around them. They urge people to speak up if someone shows warning signs—which include depression, isolation, alcohol abuse, and giving away possessions.

The ads also provide a text line and a phone lifeline for people having suicidal thoughts and for their friends and families. Nearly 300 people used the text line for the 2016 calendar year through March 2017, and about 3,300 Montanans call the lifeline every year.

Suicide prevention isn’t exactly part of MBA’s mission statement, but it makes sense for the association to get involved because of the broadcasters’ collective voice and because members already “do a lot locally in their communities,” Bruce said. And the issue of suicide “is so close to their hearts.”

“To move the needle regarding suicide in our state, it is going to take all of us doing our part and pulling together to make a difference,” Bullock said in a statement. MBA “is providing Montana with a gift we can all truly be grateful for to help raise awareness about suicide prevention in Montana.”

Image from video produced by the Montana Broadcasters Association. (zhaojiankang/Thinkstock)

Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

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