WASHINGTON - Local youth suicide prevention programs could receive additional funding from a bill passed by Congress Thursday in memory of Garrett Lee Smith, son of U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith of Pendleton.
The votes came a year and a day after Sen. Gordon Smith's son killed himself. Thursday would have been the younger Smith's 23rd birthday. Garrett battled bipolar disorder and depression.
"No family should experience the pain of losing a child and no child should face the challenges of mental illness alone," said Gordon Smith. "This legislation tells parents and children that we know their struggles and that help is out there."
The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act sets aside $82 million over the three years for youth suicide prevention and intervention programs. The House approved the bill 352-64; the Senate approved it on a voice vote. The bill now goes to the White House.
The funding will help assist states, nonprofit groups, tribal communities and high school and college campuses to develop and sustain programs to help prevent suicide. State and local officials are optimistic about the funding it could provide.
"We were very much in support of this bill so we could earmark some funds for addressing mental health issues like suicide," said Sharon Kline, chairperson of the Umatilla County Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force. "We're hoping some of this will trickle down to the local level."
Specific programs will be determined by each state and will relate to suicide prevention and intervention, including screening programs for youth in order to identify mental health and behavioral conditions that can place them at risk for suicide. In addition, colleges and universities can receive funding to establish or enhance mental health outreach and treatment centers for their students.
Donna Noonan, youth suicide prevention coordinator for the Oregon Department of Human Services' Office of Health Services, said DHS is planning to create a Web-based survey to find out what types of programs are needed and the best strategies for youth suicide prevention.
"We'd send this survey out to people working in youth suicide prevention, juvenile justice and mental health, among others, to find out what they feel is most important to prevent youth suicide," Noonan said.
But she stressed that most of the new federal funding will likely go to local programs.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., spoke in support of the bill Wednesday on the floor of the House.
"As a father, my heart aches for Senator Smith and his family, and my hope is that no one has to endure the suffering that comes with such a devastating, preventable tragedy," Walden said. "Suicide is an unspeakable occurrence, but the provisions of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act encourage young people to speak up."
Noonan also praised Sen. Smith's efforts in designing the bill.
"He's been instrumental in getting the message of youth suicide prevention out," Noonan said.
A 2003 Gallagher's Survey of Counseling Center Directors found that 81 percent of those surveyed were concerned about the increasing number of students with more serious psychological problems.
Suicide is the country's third-leading cause of death for 10-24-year-olds .