The topic of suicide in Deschutes County can conjure any number of unpleasant images. The county had the fifth-highest rate of suicide in the state in 2018, according to county officials, while being only the seventh-most-populous county that same year. You have no doubt heard stories of people who have died by suicide, right here in the local area—perhaps involving a young person you knew or loved.
But as Suicide Prevention Month continues throughout September, here's a bright spot: A tremendous increase in participation and local focus for a resource aimed at young people.
Last week, Mel Butterfield, Central Oregon regional coordinator/youthline crisis intervention specialist for the nonprofit organization Lines for Life, gave a hopeful presentation in front of the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners about the dramatic increase in participation of the YouthLine.
YouthLine, available since 2000, is a statewide hotline Oregon teens can call to get help in a crisis, or, from 4pm to 10pm, to talk to another teen about what they're experiencing. (Adult volunteers are available other hours of the day.) Young people can call the line at 877-968-8491 or text 839863, or chat or email by visiting oregonyouthline.org.
In September 2018, Lines for Life announced the expansion of YouthLine in Central Oregon. That initiative opened up opportunities for Central Oregon teens to volunteer on the crisis line or to take part in outreach in schools. Based on the numbers provided at last week's meeting, the initiative is having an impact.
Lines for Life hired Butterfield last August to begin outreach. Butterfield told the Source that in less than one year, YouthLine representatives have presented 36 lessons, visiting 17 area schools and distributing 11,200 pieces of material. In July, six Central Oregon teen volunteers and an intern in counseling from Oregon State University-Cascades began working on the local crisis line, and YouthLine is still recruiting more.
All told, the efforts locally have had a serious impact. Butterfield told the Source that from August 2018 to August 2019, they've seen an over 500% increase in contacts from youth in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties reaching out for help. Mind you, the line was available to local teens before this—but it's clear the local outreach has been instrumental.
It's been good not just for the teens who contact the line, but for the volunteers looking for opportunities not always available in less-populated areas outside the Willamette Valley. For example, teens who volunteer with YouthLine here can obtain certification in youth mental health first aid—something usually only offered to adults, Butterfield explained.
"Students along the I-5 corridor have a lot of resources, and they do things in a certain way, Butterfield said, while students in more rural areas ask, "Why can't we do that?? This is one of those opportunities."
Lines for Life is a private nonprofit funded by grants and private donations—but its initiative in Central Oregon is an example of how investing in local information-sharing could make a difference across any number of agencies, public or private, conducting business that has the potential to impact people's lives.