Why gorgeous state named America's 'last best place' has rocketed to top of the suicide charts

Scenic Montana is known as America's 'last best place' But it also harbors the perfect cultural and geographical storm for suicide Support can be found through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling 988

The gorgeous state known as America's 'last best place' has risen to the top of the suicide charts in recent years.

With its picturesque rolling grasslands stretching across sprawling plains beneath a 'Big Sky' and snow-capped mountains, Montana seems like the perfect place to live a peaceful life.

But it also harbors the perfect storm for suicide rates, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Social isolation, high proportions of gun ownership, a scarcity of access to mental health care, high rates of substance misuse, racial trauma, high altitude, vitamin D deficiency and long winters all combine to make Montana a suicide hotspot.

'It's in the culture,' Ali Mullen, 46, an activist who lost her husband to suicide in 2021 told the New York Times. 'If you don't know someone, you know of someone who has died.'

The gorgeous state known as America's 'last best place' has risen to the top of the suicide charts in recent years

The gorgeous state known as America's 'last best place' has risen to the top of the suicide charts in recent years

Ali, a mother-of-three who lives in Helena, a beautiful city surrounded by some of Montana's most picturesque national parks, told the newspaper her husband John Mullen was 40 when he shot himself in their backyard January 2021.

John, a handyman, and Ali, who works for the county health department, met while John was working at what is now the Whitefish Resort. Lovers of the country life, they enjoyed an idyllic life with three kids during the first few years of their marriage.

But John struggled with his mental health during the pandemic, and was hit hard by the state of American politics particularly after January 6.

The riot made him question, 'where is the country going for my kids?' John's boss, Jim Smith, told the Times.

Ali said her husband had stopped sleeping. 'Something changed in him after that,' she told the Times.

John would stay in his room with the blinds drawn rather than go out for beers, and he was prone to mood swings.

Seeing the dark clouds descending, Ali hid the keys to their safe where they kept their guns, initially to protect their children from it. But she put it back when she felt safe that John was getting better.

The evening of January 20, 2021, the Mullen family had just enjoyed dinner together when John left the table and walked outside.

'It's in the culture,' Ali Mullen, 46, an activist who lost her husband to suicide in 2021 told the New York Times . 'If you don't know someone, you know of someone who has died'

'It's in the culture,' Ali Mullen, 46, an activist who lost her husband to suicide in 2021 told the New York Times . 'If you don't know someone, you know of someone who has died'

Ali sensed something was wrong and followed him out to the yard, but by the time paramedics arrived, John had died. Ali was left to pick up the pieces.

The devastated mother still carried a gun wherever she goes - but she also keeps a gun lock in her handbag for anyone who might need one. The small metal device which blocks the trigger can be found on Amazon for as little as $10.

She has channeled her grief into trying to protect others and raising awareness in her community, which is railed by suicides all too often.

Janet Lindow, chief executive of the Rural Behavioral Health Institute in Livingston, Mont., which screens children for suicide risk, told the Times small communities like Helena are often worst hit.

'There is a lot of strength in a small-town structure, but the downside is that if you lose one person to suicide, it can have a large impact on the community,' she said.

In Montana, a state of 1.1 million people, 955 people died by suicide from January 2021 through November 2023, according to the Times. 

Other states in the Mountain West, including Wyoming and New Mexico, also experience higher rates. 

Ali joined a group called the LOSS team- Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors - which supports those struggling. Support can be found nationwide through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling 988.

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