Montana’s hidden epidemic Jacob’s story is too familiar in Montana


(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series reported by our summer intern, Alanis Stallknecht, a Bigfork High School graduate and senior at the University of Montana Western in Dillon. This is a rare attempt at journalism and we hope readers understand and embrace her hard work Please see the supporting story below.)

The night Jacob Parmenter decided life was too much, he isolated himself in his dorm room.The 19-year-old Bigfork High School graduate had dreams of becoming a marine, the president of his Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and graduating with a degree in Paramedicine.

But on a Spring Friday, Jacob decided his life wasn’t worth living.

“If only I could describe to everyone what one day in my life is like after losing Jacob,” said his mother, Kelly Paulson. “How it affects your parents, to your siblings and your friends.”

It’s been nearly five years since Jacob committed suicide in his Miller Hall dorm room at the University of Montana. Jacob called his mother Wednesday to let her know he was going to pick up more ammo for his gun. This was not unusual because going to the shooting range was one of Jacob’s favorite hobbies.

But at age 19, Jacob chose to use the ammo for a completely different reason.

An excerpt from his obituary reads: His whole life’s dream was to be in the military. He always wanted to be a Navy SEAL, but after he realized he’d have to be on a boat, he wanted to be a Marine. He worked out like crazy, and was as physically fit as possible. So when the time finally came for him to go to basic training, he was immediately made squad leader of 24. There he made the mistake of saying “PT was easy” and they decided to teach him a lesson; one that resulted in a medical discharge.

Unfortunately his dreams in the military didn’t work out as he planned, and it broke his heart. Two weeks after his 19th birthday, alone in his dorm room, Jacob Paul Parmenter decided to take his own life. He left only a few messages. He let his mother and father know that he loved them, and left his friends a couple of short goodbyes. He knew there must be a better place.

Thinking back on it, Kelly remembers Jacob becoming unusually quiet before the incident. No one told her that in the fall, right out of high school, Jacob was admitted into the psych ward for depression while he was attending Marine boot camp.

Once he started college, no one informed her that he was missing classes. “Boot camp broke him down a little too good,” said Kelly.

The drill instructor “promised Jake he wouldn’t graduate and ran him very hard.” According to The Montana Kaimin, a independent weekly newspaper of the University of Montana: A drill instructor overheard Jacob telling the other recruits training was easier than he anticipated, James said. The drill instructor “promised Jake he wouldn’t graduate and ran him very hard.”

After being worked four times harder than his fellow recruits, Jacob Parmenter was medically discharged three weeks before recruit training graduation. He spent three days in the psychiatric ward for depression before returning home.

Since her son’s passing, Kelly continues to think about Jacob every waking moment. While she sits in the park she notices children running around; laughing. She realizes she’ll never meet Jacob’s children, if he would have had any.

“His suicide has affected my health, my family and my well-being,” she said. One second she feels fine and the next, she begins to cry, consumed with memories. “You think you’re doing good because it’s been three days and then suddenly, you’re not.”

After Jacob’s death, it took her nearly three years to place a headstone on his grave. As a mother, the thought was too unbearable, she said. Now that the headstone is up, Kelly and the family decorate it on holidays. This year, her psychologist convinced her to celebrate his birthday as well.

So, Kelly bought a single cupcake, lit a single candle, stabbed it into the icing, and blew it out.

Jacob would have been 24.

Kelly said alcohol and drugs are not always key factors. In Jacob’s instance, depression runs

in the family, which was a contributor in his death.

After Jacob’s funeral, some acquaintances told Kelly to, “get over it.” According to her psychologist, traumatic events, such as losing a child to suicide, can result in PTSD. Post-Traumatic stress disorder can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a sudden death of a loved one, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

After her son’s death, Kelly saw a friend’s son acting like Jacob did before he chose to take his own life. She took it upon herself to pull the mother aside and inform her of the signs.

“Society needs to stop treating it (suicide) as such a touchy subject and that might help diminish the increase in suicide rates,” she said. “If people see something, whether that be a change in behavior, they need to say something,”

There is no single cause to any suicide. The reason is personal, like Jacob’s was.

Sitting alone in his dorm room on a Friday evening in the Spring, Jacob believed suicide was his only option for a reason no one will ever understand.

The numbers are startling

By Alanis Stallknecht, Beagle Intern

Experts believe Montana’s already-high teen suicide rates increased dramatically in recent years because kids believe they have no control over their own fate and can not envision a prosperous future.

“Teens considering suicide often face problems at home that are out of their control or seem overwhelming, such as economic crisis, divorce, alcoholism, domestic violence, or sexual abuse,” according to a Kid’s Count article, a private foundation that tracks the well-being of U.S. children.

A combination of these scenarios can lead to depression, which is the most common mental health disorder, according to The Montana Department of Human, Health and Public Service. I Need A Lighthouse, a depression and suicide education awareness program, wrote that about 20 percent of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood. This disease can increase their likelihood to attempt suicide by 12 times than if they were not clinically diagnosed.

Counselor at Bigfork Middle School, Jen Wood said, “often kids struggling with suicidal thoughts are fighting some deep, dark demons that they don’t want anyone to know about. Not me, not you, and definitely not their loved ones.”

Studies proved that 69 percent of teens who committed suicide were diagnosed with depression before they chose to take their own life.

These statistics come from young adults who were either having a difficult time in their personal life or were transitioning from childhood to adulthood, according to the Department.

Kelly Paulson, who lost her own son to suicide at age 19 said, “Nothing is that bad that can’t be fixed. I would hope, together, we could figure out how to fix it, whether ‘it’ is a complete life change.”

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation website, “The transition from childhood to adulthood is a period of major physical, biological, social and psychological changes. It is a time that offers opportunities on many fronts to encourage healthy development. The teen years are among the most critical points in the life cycle for ensuring access to prevention, early intervention and treatment services.”

The Department website reported that the most crucial time in a young adult’s life for development is between the ages of 15 and 24 and that’s why encouragement is critical. Studies show that kids as young as 16 can be overwhelmed for various reasons.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, prolonged stress factors such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems, unemployment and access to lethal means, including firearms and drugs are leading factors to suicides.

Ryan Wetzel, the Suicide Prevention Coordinator in Ravalli County confirmed, “Guns, alcohol and our current economy are a recipe for disaster.”

These statistics affect the entire state of Montana. However, in Northwestern Montana lies the Flathead County, where teen suicides are on the rise.

According to the Department, between 1995 and 2014 there were 284 suicides committed in the Flathead Valley alone. Of those 284, the average age for teens who committed suicide is 16.8, according to the Montana office of epidemiology and scientific support.

Wetzel believes suicide prevention strategies in Montana need improvement. “Awareness is lacking and there needs to be an emphasis in local communities starting now,” he said.

#Teensuicide #Suicide #AlanisStallnecht

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