- Associated Press - Sunday, June 29, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A team reviewing every suicide in Montana this year has been hampered in its attempt to secure consistent and complete reports from county coroners, the team’s chairman said.

The seven-member Suicide Review Team, appointed in 2013 by Gov. Steve Bullock, hopes to discover how more suicides can be prevented.

Dr. Leonard Lantz, a Helena-based psychiatrist who chairs the Suicide Review Team, told people gathered for the 2014 Montana Conference on Suicide in Helena about some of the problems the team has come up against in its work.

The conference this past week attracted a standing-room crowd of more than 250 people.

Of the 95 confirmed suicides since Jan. 1, the team received coroner reports on only a few of them. They hope for 100 percent participation from coroners.

Each coroner handling a suicide death receives a questionnaire from Karl Rosston, the state’s suicide prevention coordinator. With the results, he may contact health care and mental health professionals who have been involved with the deceased. The team will also review if the person had a criminal background and hopes to get toxicology reports from the state crime lab.

There have been significant discrepancies in the coroner reports. Some have offered one-word responses. The team is focusing on getting more thorough and consistent information in a timely manner.

But Lantz is undaunted.

“I am here as a person who wants to make a difference,” Lantz told The Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/1pKSPa6).

Although the conference update was short on specifics, the team hopes that by October it will have some detailed preliminary data to share with the public.

For more than 30 years, Montana health officials have had to guess about the causes of the state’s high suicide rate. Now, the Suicide Review Team is mining death certificates for hard data, hoping to identify risk factors and causes of suicide without overwhelming coroners.

For the next three years, the panel, which includes a pastor, psychologist, psychiatrist, sheriff/coroner and licensed clinical social worker, will focus on suicide and make recommendations to the governor.

“I feel very positive,” Rosston said. “We have an excellent team. Suicide is a cultural issue in Montana . there needs to be a cultural shift. It will take time.”

During the past three years there have been at least 678 suicides in the state.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com

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