BOZEMAN – Graphic design students at Montana State University have partnered with the university’s Veteran Service office and the MT 988 Project to create suicide prevention-themed "challenge coins” meant to increase awareness of suicide and resources available to help people, including veterans, who are in crisis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Montana has the third highest suicide rate in the nation, and military veterans are among those most affected.

Todd Bucher, director of MSU Veteran Services, and Bruce Barnhart, instructor in MSU’s School of Art, said that statistic led them to partner with the MT 988 Project, a suicide awareness program that aims to empower people to ask for help.

The partnership organized a pair of workshops, the first of which was held in March. MSU student veterans and graphic design students received suicide awareness training from MSU Counseling and Psychological Services and then discussed suicide prevention for both the veteran community and others in Montana.

One idea that came out of the workshop focused on challenge coins, which are commonly used in the armed forces to commemorate special achievements. The design students created new coins to promote suicide prevention and empower students, especially veterans, to seek help when they need it.

"Our veterans need to know that they’ve got community and support,” said MSU student veteran Darin Mydland, a mechanical engineering major in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. “(Challenge coins are) something special that there's no monetary value to, but there's a lot of sentimental value to it.”

The graphic design students created more than 30 challenge coin designs. Each design includes Montana's Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Lifeline number 988 on one side.

At the second workshop, the graphic design students revealed their designs and explained how their conversations with veterans inspired them. Ten of the designs were ultimately minted into challenge coins with the help of project sponsors.

Bucher said the event brought a higher level of awareness to an issue that impacts the entire Montana community.

“This workshop has given us one more tool to put in our tool bag — another resource to have when these situations arise,” Bucher said. “The educational component with conversation has been great and pairing it with something tangible (like the coins) makes it last that much longer."

Chris Kearns, an Air Force veteran and MSU vice president of the Division for Student Success, which co-sponsored the workshops, agreed.

“Challenge coins are a revered part of military and veteran culture,” he said. “So, in addition to its undoubted aesthetic and craftwork value by the graphic design students, this is a terrific learning and community-building opportunity while also being an effective way to communicate an important message."

Each graphic design student received three coins, two of which were presented to the veteran they worked with during the first meeting. The intent is for the veteran to have a coin they can give to a fellow veteran in a time of need, Barnhart said.

"It’s through the combination of learning, community involvement and meaningful outreach that we can spread suicide awareness and prevention,” Barnhart said.

Sponsors for the workshops include the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services; AMB West Family Foundation; and, at MSU, the College of Arts and Architecture, Division of Student Success, School of Art and Travis W. Atkins Veteran Support Center.

For more information about the Montana 988 suicide prevention project, click HERE.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or struggling with suicide, please call or text the 24-hour Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

- by Emme Demmendaal, MSU News Service -

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