by William Skink
I recently finished watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, the show about a teenage girl who kills herself, but not before recording why on 13 cassette tapes. The show is pretty terrible in terms of accurately depicting the reality of suicide among youth, and trots out every tiring teen trope to maximize the drama, but as awful as the show is, it’s nowhere near as awful as what is happening in reality, here, in Montana, with suicide prevention efforts.
First, a little history. Before the re-branding campaign that produced Project Tomorrow, suicide prevention was happening under the clunky name Western Montana Suicide Prevention Initiative, or WMSPI. Here is a description from the Project Tomorrow website:
Originally known as the Western Montana Suicide Prevention Initiative (WMSPI), the organization was founded by the Missoula City-County Health Department, United Way of Missoula County, the Institute for Educational Research and Service (IERS) at The University of Montana, and Living Works Education in 2014. In 2016 the organization rebranded and adopted the name Project Tomorrow Montana.
The initiative was established to reduce the number of suicides and suicide attempts in Western Montana through collaborative efforts that promote, support, and increase awareness, prevention, intervention, and recovery. Under this model, Project Tomorrow has educated hundreds of health care professionals, school counselors and community members on how to identify suicide warning signs and safe intervention strategies. Together, we are fighting for a better tomorrow, for Missoula, for Western Montana.
This effort is important, has done great work, and involves community leaders from lots of key areas of influence across Missoula. Suicide rates in Montana are terrible for lots of reasons, so any effective effort at prevention needs to be collaborative and–this is important–non-partisan. This last part is especially tricky when one considers the high percentage of guns that are involved in completed suicides.
The hope this project could remain non-partisan evaporated when sometime last year Nancy de Pastino took the helm (for some reason, her name is no where on Project Tomorrow’s website). Why? Because de Pastino also established the Missoula chapter of Moms Demand Action, described here:
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. Moms Demand Action campaigns for new and stronger solutions to lax gun laws and loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families. Moms Demand Action has established a chapter in every state of the country and, along with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Students Demand Action and the Everytown Survivor Network, it is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country with more than 5 million supporters and more than 350,000 donors.
The goal of Project Tomorrow is not the same as Moms Demand Action. Sure, there is overlap, but suicide prevention encompasses much more than just gun violence. If allowed to be co-opeted by a gun-control advocate, not only does the direction of Project Tomorrow change, but there could be adverse effects.
The push to get red flag laws in Montana is now being conflated with suicide prevention efforts. I think it’s a great disservice to those who don’t share the same zeal for imposing misguided gun control measures that this is being allowed to happen to Project Tomorrow.