Letter to the Editor: We can prevent suicide in Oregon

Published in The Oregonian, Friday, August 23, 2013

By Walt Beglau, Marion County district attorney

Oregon is heartbroken over the loss of precious lives to suicide on Portland’s Vista Bridge. That lovely arch now bears the face of tragedy for all of Oregon. And Oregon remains paralyzed in the grip of a mental health crisis.

Marion County District Attorney Walter M. Beglau

Marion County District Attorney Walter M. Beglau

Last year, more than 700 Oregonians killed themselves. Hundreds more attempt self-harm each year, and perhaps thousands give it thought. Many suffer from the toxic grip of addiction, finding comfort in substance abuse. In Marion County, 54 lives were lost to suicide last year. Most recent was a young woman who lay down her life in front of a train.

In public safety, mental illness remains pervasive in all the work that we do. Mental health concerns and addiction drive our work in a system ill-equipped to manage or serve the overwhelming need. Jails and prisons likely represent the largest mental health facilities in Oregon.

Two years ago, my brother jumped to a violent death off a high span of Interstate 5. He was a good man, haunted by years of addiction and hard times, not unlike many Oregonians.

I can’t put into words the grief that descended upon our family. The toxic years of loving an addict were maddening, but the pain of addiction and suicide extends far beyond family. It reflects on all of us. We are defined by it.

I believe our response to mental illness and addiction is the measure of health and dignity in our communities. As I think of my brother, I am confident we cannot fence every bridge nor remove all the endless weapons of self-destruction. There is always another bridge.

Still, I am grateful to those seeking solutions. Until Oregon makes an enduring commitment to those suffering from mental illness, the storyline will not change. Understand, this is about unrelenting community support, access to treatment and medication, and, ultimately, prevention. We can prevent suicide.

Step up, Oregon. We are killing ourselves.