Suicide Prevention: First aid for mental illness

Helping people in a mental health crisis can be as simple as asking if they are OK and then listening to them. (KATU Photo)

Galli Murray says we’re in the middle of an epidemic.

“People are dying by suicide,” says the Clackamas County youth suicide prevention coordinator.

She wishes it wasn’t so hard for regular people to talk about mental health and suicide.

Suicide is taking a lot of our loved ones, and as cancer and heart disease rates have dropped, suicides have not.

Murray and others are part of a local team trying to stop the suicide epidemic. Kathy Turner, coordinator for Get Trained to Help, is one of them.

“You’re more likely to run into someone having a suicide crisis or having a mental health emergency than you are having a heart attack, actually,” Turner says.

The team helps teach community members that suicide prevention is as easy as asking someone how they’re doing and then caring enough to listen to what they have to say.

“When we see someone who is struggling, whether it’s a physical health issue or a mental health issue, we have to say something. We have to say, are you OK? It’s as simple as that,” says Murray. “It’s the human thing to do.”

She says it’s going to take all of us.

“The culture that we have to shift is that the work of suicide prevention is everybody’s business,” she says.

New research suggests that four out of five of us will have a diagnosable mental health issue – something like depression – in our lifetimes. That’s more than will develop diabetes, heart disease or cancer – any cancer – combined.

“We count on people who have lived experience, who can share their story of recovery and hope,” Murray says.

That’s where Cody Welty is making a difference.

Now wrapping up his bachelor’s degree at Western Oregon, Welty’s always been a good student. But in high school, despite his great grades and athletic achievements, “I would wake up and I would feel sad, and I didn’t know why. And I didn’t know how to get help.”

As a senior at Sandy High School, Welty’s depression overwhelmed him and he tried to take his own life.

Now, he’s dedicated to sharing his story with local kids and telling them that if they’re sad or feel hopeless, they’re not alone.

“It’s better to have someone who’s closer to their age or who kinda can know what they’re going through to ask questions of,” Welty says.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds.

“I think I would have definitely benefited from a change in the stigma surrounding mental illness – to know that it’s OK to be sad, and that I’m not the only one,” Welty says.

They say changing attitudes would save lives and so too would more people learning mental first aid.

“It’s like just one of the basic skills that we all should have an understanding of,” says Turner.

If you or someone you know is suicidal, there is help

Oregon's suicide rate is 13th highest in the United States.

On average, about five people commit suicide in the Tri-County area every week.

15 percent of eighth-graders surveyed locally say they've considered suicide.

And while there is a lot of talk about youth suicide, the numbers show the most at-risk group in our area is actually white men 65 and older.

If you are having mental health difficulties and need someone to talk to, there's help available.

County Crisis Lines:

  • Clackamas County 503-655-8585
  • Multnomah County 503-988-4888
  • Washington County 503-291-9111

National Suicide Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Veterans & Families: 1-800-273-8255, press 1

Text to 838255

Oregon Youth Line: 1-877-968-8491

Text teen2teen to 839863

Trevor Project-LGBTQ Youth: 1-866-488-7386

Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200

To learn about and register for mental health and suicide prevention community trainings:

Call 911 if danger to safety is imminent.

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