There is, finally, some good news to report about suicide in Oregon — and, in particular, suicide among young Oregonians, those between 10 and 24 years old.
Don't misunderstand: We're nowhere near the point where everyone who needs help, everyone who's struggling, will get the help they need in a timely fashion. We may never get to that point. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to get there.
With that said, one of the big issues regarding suicide in Oregon (and elsewhere in the country) is that it remains, to some extent, shrouded in secrecy and silence. It's not a pleasant or easy subject to talk about. But we're learning how to talk about it. We need to keep dragging this into the open.
In that regard, it was gratifying to read about the efforts underway at Lebanon High School to continuing casting light on this dark subject: After suicide took the lives of a teacher at the school in May and at least four young adults with ties to the community, the school organized a community suicide prevention night. The event, which was open to the entire community, was held on Monday night.
Even more gratifying is that the event was organized in part by a student, Cooper Brooks, the student body president. The event featured speakers and displays about community resources. The message underlining all of it was a potent, powerful one: If you're struggling, help is available. You're not alone.
After vehicle wrecks, suicide is the highest cause of death among Oregonians ages 15 to 34, according to statistics last collected by the Oregon Health Authority in 2012. It was the eighth-leading cause of death among all Oregonians in 2012, and has been going up steadily since 2000.
As of 2015, the youth suicide rate (ages 10 to 24) in Oregon per 100,000 population ranked 16th highest in the nation.
No one knows for sure why the suicide rates in Oregon are so high, and we're just starting to gather a baseline of information about the youth suicide rates.
And there's certainly no one-size-fits-all guaranteed solution to prevent suicide. But events like the one in Lebanon (and in other mid-valley communities) are welcome and essential ways to keep the conversation going.
As far as the youth suicide rate in Oregon goes, there is another bit of good news to report: In 2015, the number of young Oregonians who died from suicide posted a small decline, dropping to 90 deaths from 97 the year before. (Statistics for 2016 are not yet available, but should be later in the year.)
It's possible, of course, that the drop could be just a one-year blip. But it also could be that the drop has been at least partially caused by the state of Oregon's efforts to address youth suicide.
In 2014, Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, then in the Oregon House of Representatives, introduced House Bill 4124 to give the state more tools to intervene with youth in crisis.
The bill, signed that year, accomplished two major initiatives: First, it added a new state job, the Oregon Youth Suicide Prevention coordinator, under the Oregon Health Authority. Second, it updated old information, creating a Youth Suicide Intervention and Prevention Plan and requiring yearly updates about youth suicide and suicide attempts. That's how we know about the drop in youth suicides in 2015.
Gelser credits Ann Kirkwood, who got the job as suicide prevention coordinator, with helping to drive the conversation, working more closely with school districts, county mental health organizations, advocacy groups and others to share suicide prevention resources and communicate ideas. The effort this week at Lebanon High School also helps with that communication.
There is one other thing we know for sure about suicide: Not talking about it wasn't doing anybody any good. Let's keep the conversation going. (mm)