WOU in the news: Forum stimulates dialog on tackling youth suicide

Published by: Sandy Post 
by: Kylie Wray

Following a nearly two-hour long discussion about youth suicide prevention, 52 volunteers wearing dark sweatshirts with the hoods up filed down silently to the front of the auditorium.

This moment was Clackamas County Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator Galli Murray’s favorite part of the Youth Suicide Prevention Forum held on Wednesday, Oct. 7. “The 52” represented the average of 52 people lost to suicide every year in Clackamas County.

Murray said seeing those 52 people represent those deaths in an auditorium packed to capacity at more than 100 people reminded her how much work there is to be done.

“It just felt like a very powerful message that we’re moving forward with,” she said.

The forum, held at the Providence Willamette Education Center in Oregon City, was a kickoff event for the Youth Service Provider Network and to introduce the subject to the community.

Murray, who was hired into her newly formed position as youth suicide prevention coordinator in July, said although preventing teen suicide has been a Clackamas County goal for years, the administration recently decided to re-emphasize the topic.

“The county has been more intentional to do this work,” Murray said. “What that means is that Clackamas County is committed to moving us forward as a county to decrease suicide.”

The event exceeded the expectations of organizers. Community members packed the education center’s auditorium to capacity. People even had to be turned away at the door once the space was full.

The event had four guest speakers to help audience members understand the problem of youth suicide and start thinking about how it can be prevented.

Guest speakers included Donna Noona, Oregon Public Health’s youth suicide prevention coordinator; Amy Baker, the former suicide prevention coordinator for Washington County Mental Health; and Susie Schenk, lead crisis clinician for Clackamas County Behavior Health and Centerstone Clinic; and Cody Welty.

Welty, a 20-year-old psychology student at Western Oregon University, is a Sandy High School graduate who made it his mission to educate teens that it’s OK to share your feelings so no one else ends up in the situation he was when he tried to take his own life.

“A lot of us don’t know how to talk and are embarrassed to say how we feel,” Welty said to a room full of adults and adolescents, adding that he feels counseling should be just as important for a growing adolescent as going to a medical check-up.

His message to those dealing with depression?

“You’re not abnormal, you’re not a freak, what you have is just as fixable as a broken leg,” Welty said.

Murray said her main goal for the forum was to create a space to begin having the conversation around preventing youth suicide.

Following the event, about one-third of the forum’s attendees handed in a postcard expressing their interest to continuing being involved in the conversation. From those volunteers, Murray hopes to begin forming a Youth Suicide Prevention Council, comprising both youth and adults, to help collaborate on future efforts.

“I can’t do it myself,” Murray added, “and I feel like I have a whole army of folks in the county that are willing to walk the walk with me.”

More information

To learn more about the Youth Service Provider Network, visit them on Facebook.

The Clackamas County Crisis Line can be reached at 503-655-8585 in case of a mental health emergency.

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