Montanans can be proud. We can be stubborn. We tend to bottle up negative thoughts and feelings, finding release in unhealthy ways. Montana has the second-highest number of alcohol-related deaths in the country and the highest national suicide rate. Many organizations around the state are looking at how to better serve Montanans’ mental health needs. Montana Project LAUNCH is starting with our children.

In September 2014, the Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS) awarded $800,000 a year for five years to Montana Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions in Unmet Needs in Children’s Health) to improve health systems and access to mental health services for young children and their families. Currently, Project LAUNCH is evaluating how the development of mental health infrastructure can be best accomplished in Gallatin County (an urban area) and the adjacent Park County (which is classified as “frontier” due to low population density).

Project LAUNCH serves children birth through age 8 with a preference for families living outside of Bozeman and 300 percent under the federal poverty level. If it strikes you as unusual that DDHHS would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars providing mental health support to such a young age group, the following statistics may help provide perspective:

  1. In Montana, 2012-2016, the youth (ages 11-17) suicide rate was almost triple the national average.
  2. In 2016, 443 children ages 5 to 14 committed suicide in the United States (including seven 9-year-olds).
  3. In Montana, over the past ten years, suicide was the number two cause of death for children ages 10-14, adolescents ages 15-24, and adults ages 25-44.

Through Project LAUNCH, Montana’s children will have better access to mental health resources and (ideally) make healthier choices in response to their mental health needs. A framework that supports young Montanans’ social, emotional, and mental health needs is an absolute necessity if we are ever to overcome the cloud of depression, abuse, and suicide which blemishes our Big Sky.