Other Views: A small but important step

Typically, you don't expect to see big-deal legislation during the course of one of the Oregon Legislature's shorter sessions, such as the one that wrapped up earlier this month. With just 35 days to tackle a variety of business, these sessions are best suited to relatively minor budget adjustments and tweaks to fix smaller policy issues.

In some regards, we suppose the bill Rep. Sara Gelser pushed through the Legislature to improve access to services for young people at risk of killing themselves qualifies as a "tweak."

But as tweaks go, this one may turn out to be a big deal.

The issue of youth suicide is not one that many of us are comfortable discussing. But in the last five months alone, the mid-valley has lost at least five people between the ages of 10 and 24 to suicide. Suicide is the No. 2 cause of death among Oregonians ages 15 to 34. (Numbers like these are part of the reason why the Democrat-Herald and our sister paper, the Corvallis Gazette-Times, have launched a series of stories exploring the topic.)

Gelser's bill, House Bill 4124, should help to strengthen the state's ability to intervene with youths in crisis.

It calls for annual reports to lawmakers containing current data about suicide and suicide attempts — in and of itself a valuable step forward, considering the difficulty we had in tracking down current information about the topic as we worked on our stories.

The bill also calls for the state to update its youth suicide intervention and prevention plan every five years, with the first update due next January. This, too, will be a valuable step forward, considering that it's been more than a decade since the state last updated the plan.

Finally, the measure calls for the state to increase the focus on intervention in cases in which youths are in crisis. The previous focus of the state's efforts was on long-term prevention, which is fine — but that doesn't do much good when a teenager is in the throes of crisis and needs immediate help.

In fact, as our stories have demonstrated, our mental health system often doesn't offer much in the way of help for those children — and their loved ones, frantically searching for help.

Gelser's bill doesn't fix all those problems. In fact, it would be fair to call the measure a relatively small step forward.

But here's a case where one small step forward is worth cheering — and hoping that it's the first of many similar steps toward addressing this issue, which for too long has flourished in darkness and silence.

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