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Gerry O'Brien

Gerry O’Brien

The momentum is building to raise awareness about youth suicides in Klamath County and throughout Oregon. (See related editorial on this page regarding state efforts).

Suicide rates in Oregon are higher than the national average and are higher in Klamath County than Oregon, according KBBH Director Stan Gilbert. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Oregon and the second leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 34.

May and September is statistically the highest months for suicides, and in January alone, KBBH received some 140 call outs of its new, 24/7 mobile unit to speak with someone who is threatening their own life. By mid-February, there were a similar number of such call outs.

Of note is a new group of mental health experts as well as ordinary citizens who last year formed the advocacy group You Matter to Klamath, with the hashtag #Umatter2Klamath

Led by Klamath Basin Behavioral Health (KBBH) it comprises some 25 to 30 people who represent a wide swath of the Basin from youth to health care professionals and are laser-focused on suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.

You Matter to Klamath includes mental health counselors, intervention specialists, city and county school district workers, Klamath Tribes members, law enforcement officials, teen group representatives and the media — just to name a few.

It’s a large group, but it’s a large problem. The focus is on kids up to age 25, but it won’t ignore anyone who is contemplating taking their own life.

For a long time, many of the individuals from this group have dealt with suicide in their own communities, in their own ways, within their own age groups. Now, it is hoped that a unified voice will spark the community to discuss the issue openly.

When a recent H&N article on the group was published, there was some blow-back from readers that the media is simply reinforcing the old cliché’s surrounding suicides — the idea that there’s a stigma attached to suicides — without getting to the heart of the problem, or consideration for the families left behind. That can’t be further from the truth.

The goal of You Matter to Klamath is to debunk the stigma and get the community to open up about the issue, so that parents talk to their children and children talk to their parents. Further, a community forum is being planned for May, the date and location to be announced, that we hope a few hundred show up for and learn about the ways we can discuss suicide, how suicides can be reported and how we can honor the memory of those who have died.

It’s a tough subject, and sadly, sometimes comes out of nowhere. But we hope the community responds and opens up to help out.