News article about boy's death wins national SAVE award
"Boy's death puts focus on mental health care" has been selected as the 2020 recipient of the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) National Media Award for Best Print Reporting on Suicide Loss.
SAVE established its Award for Excellence in Reporting on Suicide to "recognize members of the media who demonstrate responsible reporting on the topics of mental health and suicide." The Pamplin Media Group article provided details about a fourth-grader at Holcomb Elementary School in Oregon City who took his life on Dec. 10, 2019.
Phillesha Bradford, the mother of Elyejah Dean Hauff, 9, said several factors that experts say can increase the risk of child suicide were in play for her son in the months leading up to his death. Experts warn against providing details about suicides or pinning the blame on any one cause, pointing out that suicides usually are the result of various factors.
Details about Elyejah's life and death were presented by the newspaper alongside free resources for families in crisis. Elyejah — who was biracial — had talked about feeling discrimination; complained about a lack of support with struggles at school and with classwork; and was having trouble getting a therapist.
Pamplin Media Group sought to provide news coverage the 9-year-old's suicide sensitively, to change public misperceptions about suicide and reduce stigmas in ways that may encourage people at risk to seek help. Dr. Daniel J. Reidenberg, managing director of the National Council for Suicide Prevention, said a news report about Elyejah, given that his suicide seemed to stem from many different possible causes, might inspire positive changes for the district and awareness among readers.
Jeana Gannon-Gonzales, a chapter volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a member of the Unite Oregon City group seeking equality for local people of color, said the article brought attention to gaps in the safety net at a school district that didn't have staff members to provide professional mental health therapy.
"It is critical school districts commit to programs supporting mental health at all grade levels," Gannon-Gonzales said.
Kyle Laier, who leads the Oregon City School District's suicide prevention efforts, said special considerations in preventing suicides among the district's minority populations were discussed during a Feb. 7 staff training. This summer, Unite OC received the school district's support to implement a program called No Place For Hate.
"With suicide being the second leading cause of death for ages between 15 [and] 34, it is my hope the school district will take a more active approach in suicide prevention by collaborating with organizations and utilizing the resources they have been given," Gannon-Gonzales said.
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Positive effects of the news article continue to ripple out into the community in other ways. As part of the media award, SAVE gave out a $150 cash prize, which the author of the news article, Editor Raymond Rendleman, is donating to the Oregon City Parks Foundation. OCPF Board President Roger Fowler-Thias said the parks foundation was honored to accept the national award monies for the news article that appeared in the Clackamas Review/Oregon City News.
"It is our intention to use these donated award monies as matching funds for grants, along with future donations to kick-start an annual Elyejah Hauff Memorial Fund," Fowler-Thias said. "These funds will be used to enroll children in the Oregon City summer and winter camps whose families have limited resources."
Bradford said she appreciated memorial donations to organizations that promote making nature accessible to everyone, since her son loved being outdoors — from fishing, crabbing and exploring the beach to camping and stargazing. She suggested that readers of the newspaper also consider donating to the Elyejah Project, a ministry through Park Place Church that will continue Elyejah's legacy through education and support for youth to help prevent suicide and trafficking.
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Clackamas County-based Neurotherapeutic Pediatric Therapies Inc., works to end suicides across the community. We spoke with Executive Director Karen Brelje who says the resource can be free for many families
• National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
• Lines for Life YouthLine: 877-968-8491
• Text: 'Hello' to 741741.
• Chat online: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
• Clackamas County's 24-hour crisis line: 503-655-8585
Editor, Clackamas Review/Oregon City News
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