Addressing mental health and suicide
Marion County's Zero Suicide Program Director Laura Sprouse delivered a concise message to county commissioners on Sept. 1: "Hope is out there, and no one should be without it."
Sprouse was one of several members of Marion County's Behavioral Health and Human Services team to address the commissioners in advance of a proclamation coming before the panel. That proclamation, approved unanimously by the commission, declares September 2021 as suicide prevention awareness month in the county.
Joining Sprouse were Scott Vu, the county's mental health promotion and suicide prevention coordinator, and Phil Blea, program manager for MC Behavioral Health & Human Services.
Vu said the county recorded 63 deaths by suicide in 2020, and the state of Oregon recorded 828. Part of the discussion addressed how recent factors such as wildfires, COVID-19 and the ice storm all adding mental health stresses to residents of the region. But the problem is broader than that.
"We all know this has been an issue even pre-COVID and pr-fires, and (those events) just highlighted the need for more work in this," Commissioner Kevin Cameron said.
Cameron, who was in the thick of the midnight wildfire evacuations from Santiam Canyon a year ago, said various stressors over the past year, including the fire and having a family member battling with COVID-19, led him to seek out help for emotional health.
"It really made a difference to me. I just want to thank you, the professionals who are there and can, in some cases, just be there to listen," Cameron said, adding that the counseling refocused his thoughts on what he could control and taught him helpful breathing exercises. "I just want to help anybody I can knock down those walls. It's OK to ask for help."
The proclamation noted that September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and for the past few years county staff have come before the BOC to recognize the issue through a formal proclamation.
Events of the past 19 months have heightened the issue.
"Especially now, people are under a lot of stress, and it's more important than ever that we focus on preventing suicide," Commissioner Colm Willis said.
Last year Marion County expanded its mental health resources in Woodburn by opening an office with on-site counselors available.
"The more we bring the issue of suicide into the light, the more people we can support coming out of the darkness," Sprouse added.
What: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Walk out of Darkness
When: Originally scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 9, at Riverfront Park in Salem, the event has changed to a virtual one scheduled for Oct. 16.
Notes: We made the difficult decision to cancel our in person walk. Due to the rising numbers of Covid cases, the new Covid restrictions, and the need to keep our friends safe, we decided this was best for everyone.
In place of the in person walk, we are asking everyone to join us on Saturday, Oct. 16, for a virtual walk ceremony & party.
In addition to that, we still want to see our people face-to-face. We are hosting a drive-through packet pick up on our original Walk day of Saturday, Oct. 9, This will include a bag full of resources, goodies, and of course our amazing Honor Beads, a favorite at our event.
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