Suicide-prevention bills try to shield youth from trauma
SALEM — Legislation intended to prevent youth suicides is set to become law.
Adi's Act — Senate Bill 52 — requires school districts to plan how to address and prevent suicides among students. The legislation is backed by the family of Adi Staub, a transgender student at Grant High School in Portland who died by suicide in 2017.
"I think that it's just one part of a much larger societal need, which is to make sure that every kid, no matter how they identify or who they love, sees hope for the future," Lon Staub, Adi's father, told Oregon Capital Bureau.
Suicide is among the leading causes of death in Oregon, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, with 825 Oregonians dying by suicide in 2017. For Oregonians ages 10 to 24, it is the second-leading cause of death.
Gay, bisexual and transgender youth are statistically far more likely to attempt suicide than youth as a whole. Staub said it's important that Adi's Act directs school officials to specifically address the risk of suicide among "high-risk" student populations, including LGBT youth, youth with disabilities and homeless youth.
The youth suicide rate in Oregon has increased dramatically this decade, state data shows. In 2010, about seven in every 100,000 Oregonians between the ages of 10 and 24 died by suicide. By 2017, that rate virtually doubled.
Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, carried Adi's Act on the House floor. It wasn't lost on her that on the same day the bill passed, with all representatives present voting in favor, an 18-year-old senior at Parkrose High School was arrested after bringing a shotgun to school. Portland police said the student evidently intended to die by suicide.
"That was an emotional (day)," Smith Warner said. "This is the reality of what kids are dealing with, and it's horrible."
A level of trauma
A number of suicide-related bills were introduced this session, with several focused on preventing youth suicides moving forward.
Beginning last year, Smith Warner and a bipartisan group of legislators toured school districts across the state to gather input on Oregon's education system.
"Really, what smacked us in the face everywhere was just the level of trauma that kids are dealing with at home, bringing to school, trying to deal with at school," Smith Warner said. "Our schools have become the de facto social service providers of our communities, yet we hadn't really been funding them that way."
Staub said Adi's Act works in concert with the Student Success Act, which bolstered school funding.
"We knew and were concerned that Adi's Act wouldn't be successful without the funding, and so we're encouraged to see that that funding is also taking place," Staub said.
Getting the school funding meant Senate Democrats had to abandon a gun control bill that, among other things, would have required gun-owners to keep their firearms in a locked room or gun safe when they are not being used.
Smith Warner said people who attempt suicide with a gun are far more likely to die than those who attempt suicide by another method.
"We need to deal with gun violence prevention as a public health issue," she said. "Guns are a huge part of the suicide problem that we have in this state and everywhere."
On the same day the House approved Adi's Act, representatives also voted 51-3 for Senate Bill 485, which requires school districts, colleges and universities to notify the Oregon Health Authority when a student dies in a suspected suicide. The legislation, which was carried on the House floor by Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, also requires the OHA to work with school districts, colleges and universities to plan how to respond to a suicide, including efforts to prevent suicides inspired by the student's death.
Gov. Kate Brown has publicly supported efforts to address suicide in Oregon, and a spokesman said she plans to sign both bills into law.