Let’s come together as a community in this difficult time

Justin Post

The Livingston community is struggling through one of the most difficult times in recent memory following the suicide deaths of two Park High School students in one week.

The news jolted the community. Local and state officials are working to determine a cause of the crisis and to prevent any more suicides.

Our hearts go out to the families of these two young men, both of whom, as their obituaries stated, left this world too soon, as well as to the families of two adults who subsequently died by suicide in recent weeks.

The families are experiencing an unthinkable time of loss, and some discussed the complicated emotions they are feeling during a Tuesday community meeting organized to address the suicides and give locals an opportunity to discuss prevention.

Local residents have channeled their emotions a number of ways in response to the deaths. 

Some took to social media offering assistance to the families, while others lashed out with frustration at school officials.

A number of comments posted on Facebook were insensitive and some relatives of the deceased teens said the social media conversation was counterproductive to the grieving and recovery process.

“Watching those adults fight over Facebook, it hurts me,” Katlyn Gillen, the sister of Deon Gillen, 17, who died of suicide on Feb. 14, told the crowd of more than 140 at Park High School during Tuesday’s meeting.

Certainly, no one is suggesting that the community stop the ongoing dialogue about suicide. Not now, not ever. But we should all seek to channel our frustrations for suicide to the overall betterment of the situation rather than lashing out with angry, hurtful comments that do nothing to advance the conversation.

The fact that High School Principal Lynne Scalia has received death threats is also troubling and unacceptable.

This is no time for threats and anger-fueled dialogue. This is a time to speak to our children, our families and our friends.

Parents should talk openly with their children about suicide and walk shoulder to shoulder beside our youth.

This is a time to come together as a community and heal while remembering those who left too soon.

It’s also a time for those struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide to seek treatment. 

If you’re feeling like there’s no hope and are wondering whether there’s any reason to continue, know there are folks immediately available to help.

Therapists are available 24 hours a day by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-278-8255 or by calling (406) 586-3333. The voice that answers the telephone at both phone numbers will be a Montanan from the area.

The Livingston Mental Health Center is another resource where people may seek face-to-face assistance at the agency’s new offices at 1315 W. Crawford in Livingston. Contact the Livingston Mental Health Center at 222-3332.

Park High School is sending pamphlets to parents to help identify warning signs of suicide. Warning signs may also be found at www.dphhs.mt.gov/amdd/Suicide.aspx.