James Donaldson notes:
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of depression and suicidal thoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space. http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle
“One-in-three kids are depressed, one-in-four contemplate suicide and one-in-five have tried it. That’s a staggering number.”
Those are the words of Eugene pediatrician Pilar Bradshaw, talking about Lane County youth in last Sunday’s Register-Guard story.
Expert after expert, report after report, and one family’s story after another has emphasized that suicide is a community issue and it takes a community to prevent suicide. Yet too few people have stepped forward. Bradshaw has.
She organized and, through her healthcare businesses, financed a local summit on suicide prevention. She now is footing the bill for the Bethel School District to operate a behavioral health and suicide-prevention program in its middle and high schools.
Bradshaw’s involvement is laudatory, but she should not be alone. Lane County and Oregon are in a crisis, one that is not new.
“For too long, Oregon’s youth suicide rate has been nearly twice the national rate,” says the state’s five-year Youth Intervention and Prevention Plan. Yet Oregon is one of only three states that does not require schools to have their own suicide prevention plans. In 2017, Mental Health America ranked Oregon among the very worst states for its high prevalence of youth mental illness but limited access to treatment.
Meanwhile, a statewide survey conducted by Oregon high schoolers found that access to behavioral health services was their top concern. Members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Student Success reached similar conclusions during their statewide meetings with youth, parents, educators and other community leaders.
There is momentum for improvement at the state level. Legislators are pursuing several bills on suicide prevention — and the bullying and harassment that can contribute to suicide attempts. Gov. Kate Brown now says she underestimated the need and included too little money for youth behavioral health in her 2019-2021 state budget proposal. The Oregon Task Force on School Safety has introduced bipartisan legislation to expand bullying and harassment prevention, youth suicide prevention and mental wellness, and school safety assessment teams.
That progress is good news but, by itself, inadequate. Locally, we have a moral, ethical and societal responsibility to act without waiting on the governor or the Legislature.
Dr. Bradshaw has shown us that taking personal responsibility can have a large impact. If money is the challenge for school districts, the rest of us can help through our own donations, whether a check written from a hefty bank account or spare change generated from recycling cans and bottles.
The Bethel School District adopted the Sources of Strength curriculum for suicide prevention. The Eugene School District offers a mentoring program at its middle schools as “a way to give extra support to a teen or tween who may be facing challenges.” Ophelia’s Place, CAHOOTS and other organizations provide counseling, anti-bullying training and related services for students. Many could use more volunteers.
All those, and more, are part of helping teens develop the resilience to handle life’s challenges in better ways. Again, this is where Lane County residents can increase that momentum. Sources of Strength is not prohibitively expensive — the initial bill covered by Bradshaw is $8,700 — so why has it, or a similar program, not been adopted in Eugene, Springfield and every other Oregon school district?
School superintendents and school boards confronted with competing education and financial demands need to hear loudly, clearly and tenaciously from the community: We’re in a crisis. We need you to provide effective, research-based, age-appropriate suicide prevention programs and stronger behavioral health resources for your students — our children. How can we help?
These efforts must expand throughout the community, reaching homeschooled students, youth who have dropped out and others.
Lane County parents, who have suffered the family pain of suicide, have been at the State Capitol to tell their stories to lawmakers and urge action. Their grief is almost unimaginable to anyone who has not been through it.
These family members deserve to know we are with them. We see the crisis. We will speak up. We will not accept any stigma in talking openly about mental health. We will not tolerate any delay, any excuse, in making Lane County a safe place for teens.