The Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has announced the winners of its 2013 Hero Awards. The awards are dedicated to individuals or organizations that have fought for better mental health in their community. All of the winners this year were either from Helena or Western Montana communities, like Stevensville, Hamilton, and Missoula.

According to NAMI Montana Executive Director Matt Kuntz, Montana is improving, but it is still worse off than most states when it comes to many mental health issues.

"There's no getting around the fact that we're nearly always at the top for suicide percentages in the country," Kuntz said. "That's a really direct indicator for how we're doing in getting people help for their mental illnesses."

Kuntz said that Montana has many geographical difficulties to overcome in providing proper care, but rural communities aren't the only areas that struggle.

"We need to consider how many people that live with mental illness show up in the emergency rooms," Kuntz said. "That means, basically, that the standard level of care isn't working. Missoula County is traditionally one of the highest counties in the state for sending people to Warm Springs, same thing with Lewis and Clark County. While we may be doing some things, I think the western side of the state has a long way to go."

The 2013 Hero Award winners will be given their awards tomorrow, Thursday, October, 24 at the NAMI-Montana annual banquet. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. at the Missoula Holiday Inn Downtown.

Below are this year's award winners:

  • State Representative Ellie Hill (D- Missoula) - for her bipartisan leadership and advocacy in improving Montana's emergency detention standard
  • State Representative Ron Ehli (R- Hamilton) - for his strong leadership in a variety of mental illness issues to help ensure effective care in our communities
  • The Genesis House from Stevensville - for their amazing efforts helping women reintegrate back into daily life after returning from Montana State Hospital
  • Lisa Kenny, N.P., an advanced practice nurse with the Cooperative Health Center in Helena - for her compassionate care for the homeless
  • Dr. Leonard Lantz, M.D., a psychiatrist from Helena - for his service as the Medical Director for A.W.A.R.E. Inc. and his work in becoming a powerful advocate for suicide prevention in the state

Matt Kuntz: