Statistics and Discourse According to a 2014-‘15 report from the Oregon Health Authority, “Oregon has consistently been ranked among the top states for youth suicide and the rate has been increasing since 2011.” In fact, suicide is reported as the “second leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in Oregon.” Moreover, one in five people will experience a mental health crisis in their lifetime. Recently I sat down with Jim Gouveia, a counselor and Suicide Prevention Coordinator at OSU, and asked him what he thought was contributing to so many deaths.
Gouveia noted that the catalysts for suicide are often transitory—the feeling of failure when something doesn’t go right—but that there are certain environmental factors that push people to their breaking point. People often feel isolated, like they’re a burden, or like they don’t belong.
Gouveia also pointed out that social media is having an impact on how the younger population thinks about suicide. Not only is online bullying a problem, but young adults are simply talking more about suicide online—if they get a bad grade or a relationship ends, they say they want to kill themselves.
“Conversation makes it a social norm…we’re connected in a disconnected way.” Gouveia went on to say that people who commit suicide often lack the social support networks they need to get through difficult situations.
While people are talking about suicide ideation online, there seems to be a lack of face-to-face communication in schools. Kids learn about physical health, but according to Gouveia, a focus on mental well-being is still lacking throughout their educational experience. Gouveia says this has a lot to do with the stigma of mental health—that people, including parents, don’t want to talk about depression.
Students aren’t learning to reach out to others when they’re feeling hopeless and they’re not learning how to see the signs in others: a dramatic change in behavior, giving away personal belongings, self-harm such as cutting, and increased substance abuse. Gouveia says the only way we’re going to change this is if we’re not scared to talk about it. That means all of us. “It’s a community effort,” he said.
Get Involved Recently, there was a Community Connections meeting that addressed the lack of suicide prevention curriculum and training across Benton County and Linn County. With the help of Samaritan Health Services, Oregon Health Authority, Trillium Family Services, DHS Child Welfare, LBCC, and others, members of this growing initiative hope to implement better family support services, to reduce the stigma of mental illness, and to provide more peer-led suicide intervention skills at every level of the school system.
Currently, OSU students, faculty, and staff can participate in Gatekeeper Suicide Prevention Workshops to learn the signs and how to take action if someone might be considering suicide. Steps include: acknowledging that you’re aware of their distress; taking assertions about suicidal thoughts seriously; and knowing what resources are available to the person in need. One suggestion is telling those suffering from depression that it is real and it is treatable.
Additionally, Samaritan Health Services offers Mental Health First Aid trainings. This is for anyone who wants to learn how to provide front-line help to someone who may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness or crisis.
Trillium Family Services, local leaders and facilitators in mental health, encourage community members to pledge to their advocacy campaign, Keep Oregon Well, which aims to fight behavioral and mental health stigma, build a trauma-informed community, and provide learning opportunities. Sign up online at https://trilliumfamily.org/advocacy/keep-oregon-well/, and pledge to share in the campaign’s values of nonviolence, emotional intelligence, empathy, democracy, equity and inclusion, and more. Signees will receive periodic emails detailing events and other ways to make our Oregon communities safe and supportive environments.