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Missoula Urban Indian Health Center gets $1.65M to combat suicide, substance abuse

Missoulian - 5/23/2019

American Indian youth in Montana are five times more likely to commit suicide compared to other populations, according to the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center. Those kids also report higher rates of marijuana, methamphetamine and other drug use, according to the Montana Department of Justice.

But this week, the MUIHC announced it has been awarded two federal grants totaling $1.65 million to help provide suicide prevention services, substance abuse prevention, mental health support and other services to American Indians living in Missoula County.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Skye McGinty, the development and communications coordinator at the center.

The money will allow the center to continue programs it already has, as well as start new programs. For one, they’ll hire a clinical physician and part of that person’s job will be outreach. But they’ll also provide services at the center.

The first grant comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Called Missoula Native Connections, it’s a five-year project “aimed at increasing the support and delivery of culturally tailored suicide and substance abuse prevention services to American Indian youth ages 15-24." They plan to serve a total of about 300 to 400 youth in the area.

The MUIHC will work with the University of Montana and Missoula County Public Schools to develop a referral system and service delivery network aimed at reducing youth suicide and substance abuse.

McGinty said there isn’t a whole lot of data to explain why American Indian youth are more prone to taking their own life.

“We don’t know (why the rate is higher),” she said. “That’s part of the problem. We don’t know why there is a gap concerning suicide rates.”

In Montana, there were 246 suicides reported between 2005 and 2014 for whites aged 11-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s 15 per 100,000 people. For Native Americans, there were 76 total suicides in that time period, or 43 per 100,000.

Part of the grant funding will go toward exploring the factors behind those numbers to find a solution, she said.

The second grant is called a 4-in-1 grant and is funded by the Indian Health Service. It will pay for a three-year project that will provide mental health, alcohol and substance abuse education. It will also fund immunization, health promotion and disease prevention services to American Indians living in Missoula. McGinty said it’s a continuation of a grant the MUIHC has had in the past and provides crucial support services that complement the direct medical care already offered by the center.

“The 4-in-1 grant program underscores IHS’s commitment to provide quality health care for urban Indians,” said IHS principal deputy director Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee. “We are excited to address the health needs of urban Indians across the nation by partnering with urban Indian organizations to provide access to comprehensive and culturally appropriate health care services.”

The MUIHC is funded by the IHS and was established in 1970. Its mission is to “promote sustainable healthy lives” for Native people and the surrounding community through culturally-based, holistic care.