The Montana Gap

Look at statewide numbers and Montana’s economy seems to be doing well. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of jobs in the state of Montana grew 20 percent, according to a report released last year by Headwaters Economics. Personal income grew, as did statewide employment.

If you live outside a city, though, there’s a good chance you won’t see much evidence of that growth. In small towns, contracting economies, shrinking population and social issues including a lack of mental health services offer mounting challenges. For a year, a group of journalists from western Montana, supported by High Country News and the Solutions Journalism Network, have investigated what Montana communities are doing to be resilient to change, from economic shifts to mental health. This project is funded by the LOR Foundation.

Small towns under the Big Sky address challenges to secure their future, as centers boom.
How a Montana school is combating bullying and suicide
How a Montana school is combating bullying and suicide
An assembly acknowledges elementary students’ pain and teaches them to speak up.
The lifelong consequences of childhood trauma
The lifelong consequences of childhood trauma
Harrowing experiences can spark health issues and substance abuse into adulthood.
What gun shops can do to help prevent suicide
What gun shops can do to help prevent suicide
Montana’s arms dealers could learn from a model in New Hampshire.
Montanans must rely on each other in crisis
Montanans must rely on each other in crisis
A network of local providers steps in as vital mental health centers close.
Suicide and loss: A mother reflects on her son’s death
Suicide and loss: A mother reflects on her son’s death
In 2016, when Jack Pierre ended his life, Montana’s suicide rate led the nation.
Neighbors on call to help care for one another
Neighbors on call to help care for one another
Community health programs are thriving in Haiti, Montana and the Navajo Nation.
Montana lacks money to treat its most vulnerable residents
Montana lacks money to treat its most vulnerable residents
Patients with developmental disabilities and mental illness fall through the state’s health care gaps.
A curriculum to help students build healthy relationships
A curriculum to help students build healthy relationships
In Montana, middle-schoolers are learning the importance of resiliency and support.
Montana teens organize to prevent suicides
Montana teens organize to prevent suicides
‘Students have decided that to make change, we need to be the change.’
You know CPR — what about mental health first aid?
You know CPR — what about mental health first aid?
Training peers to recognize risks and warning signs can help prevent suicide.
Rural communities look at new ways to fortify mental health
Rural communities look at new ways to fortify mental health
A dearth of professional help leaves small-town residents seeking help from one another.
‘Recovery is possible — and we’re examples of it’
‘Recovery is possible — and we’re examples of it’
Peer support from the recently recovered helps those in active addiction.
Montana is losing essential mental health services
Montana is losing essential mental health services
As the state’s mental health system faces an uncertain future, experts encourage crisis prevention.
Did Fort Collins grow too big too fast?
Did Fort Collins grow too big too fast?
The Colorado city’s unwieldy expansion offers a cautionary tale for similar Western locales.
A way out of Bozeman’s shadow
A way out of Bozeman’s shadow
Belgrade, Montana, is growing just enough to assert an identity separate of its adjacent city.
A town clings to its small-town identity under pressure
A town clings to its small-town identity under pressure
Manhattan, Montana, has become a bedroom community with full schools but few businesses.
When a town wants to grow — but not too quickly
When a town wants to grow — but not too quickly
Three Forks has weathered much. Facing new pressures, can it stay in control?
Examining the disparity of urban and rural growth
Examining the disparity of urban and rural growth
A new project taps into how rural Montana is grappling with its uncertain future.
In Montana, rural fairs cling to a tenuous future
In Montana, rural fairs cling to a tenuous future
Long seen as a way to fuel local economies, summer festivals are getting harder for some to justify.
When Copper Kings leave, what happens to the slag?
When Copper Kings leave, what happens to the slag?
To jolt its economy, a town explores the many uses of the byproduct of its smelting history.
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