Delivering a message of hope and prevention
By Mindy Cooper/ The Portland Observer
A car plunged through the seawall and disappeared into the Willamette River. Despite attempts by Portland Fire & Rescue divers to pull the woman from the vehicle, she was found dead once the rescue team arrived. The death, which occurred last month, was determined to be a suicide.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Oregon has the eighth highest rate of suicides within the country.
In 2010, 670 Oregon lives were taken as a result of suicide, and the numbers keep climbing.
In an effort to tackle the rising rate of suicides within the state, the non-profit organization Oregon Partnership is on a mission to spread a message of hope and prevention for residents and their loved ones.
According to Tom Parker, director of communications for the non-profit, Oregon Partnership works diligently every day to promote healthy communities through drug and alcohol awareness, drug prevention programs and a 24-hour crisis line for treatment referrals and suicide intervention.
“Between the Portland Fire and Rescue and the Portland Police Bureau, a suicide attempt is responded to at least once a week,” said Parker. “Oregon Partnership exists for one reason, and that is to prevent suicide.”
Usually associated with problems that can be solved, he said the number of lives taken from suicide drastically exceed the number of homicides throughout the state, where 670 individual’s deaths were a result of suicide, compared to the 91 lives taken from homicide last year.
These numbers don’t even begin to include the number of loved ones impacted and the non-fatal attempts by residents, which came to 7,370 in Oregon in 2010, according to the state’s non-violent death report.
“The big thing here is prevention,” said Parker.
In the past year, Portland Fire and Rescue has responded to 55 calls of individuals attempting to kill themselves by jumping off Portland’s bridges—a total that is up by 39 calls from the previous year.
“I think people need to know there is help out there,” said Colin Mcgladrey, who has worked with Fire and Rescue for eight-years.
Nick Weichal, a fellow first responder, agreed.
Both men are part of the team at Fire Station 21 that responds to the calls when someone chooses to jump from a bridge in Portland. At Waterfront Park last Thursday, they both stood at the site where their team attempted to save the life of the women who drove her car into the river.
“It seems like it happens more and more often,” said Weichal. “Not only does it have an impact on family members, but it does on first responders also because we have to deal with it in our own way.”
He said, however, by opening Fire Station 21, first responders have been able to increase the number of rescues they have made on the Willamette river.
According to Leslie Storm, the director of the Oregon Partnership hotline, the organization received a high increase of calls to the help line last year. She said the increase in calls can be attributed to the number of individuals facing debt and economic hardship, which has exasperated the number of suicides throughout the country.
“They really feel like they’ve run out of options,” she said.
Storm, along with fire and rescue crews, Portland Police officers, and residents who have been impacted by suicides within their personal lives, joined together to send the message of hope and prevention at the waterfront site where the woman took her life.
Storm, who talks with individuals everyday about what to do when suicide comes into the picture, named off several warning signs to know when someone might be thinking of taking their own lives. “Please take them seriously,” she urged the crowd. “Ask about it, listen and be patient.”
Storm said there are two myths that surround an individual’s attempts to call out for help that too often cause misconception. One myth, she said, is that people who talk about suicide won’t go through with it. Another is that by talking with someone about suicide, it will give them the idea to kill themselves.
She said, however, these beliefs are simply not true. “The stigma, shame, secrecy and myths surrounding suicide unfortunately keep people from getting the help they need,” she said.
According to Oregon Partnership, the leading causes of suicide are untreated depression and other untreated mental health disorders. The calls to the Oregon Partnership’s Suicide Lifeline went from nearly 11,000 in 2008 to over 19,000 in 2010 as the economic recession took hold.
Although there isn’t one determining factor to why people feel compelled to take their own lives, Parker said there is a dire need to talk about the underlying mental health issues within the country. “By its very definition, they can’t see other options,” he said. “By talking about it, it is preventable.”
For more information about services offered by Oregon Partnership, visit orpartnership.org or call 503-244-5211.
To reach the 24-hour suicide lifeline, call 800-273-TALK.