OHSU raising awareness during Suicide Prevention Month

September is Suicide Prevention Month and OHSU is hoping to raise awareness about the growing youth mental health crisis in our community.
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 10:40 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - September is Suicide Prevention Month and OHSU is hoping to raise awareness about the growing youth mental health crisis in our community.

“Here at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, we access many kids each month who have attempted suicide and 90% of the kids have attempted suicide by taking overdoses of medicine,” said Dr. Kyle Johnson, Professor in the Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “The mass majority of those medicines are ones that are readily available at home.”

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Dr. Johnson says they have seen an increasing number of children coming to their pediatric emergency department in suicidal crisis for the last few years, so since 2018 they have been providing lockboxes to families.

“Since April of 2018, we started a medication lockbox program where we distribute lockboxes to kids and families that we are assessing on our consultation liaison service here at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital,” Johnson said. “That has led to us getting a number of grants over the years, including a grant this year that even extended that program to beyond medication lockboxes to safe firearm storage. Since then, we have distributed over 1,200 medication lock boxes to families.”

He says the response to the program has been one of appreciation from families, like Dr. Judy Guzman-Cottrill’s.

“My 18-year-old son Miles had a major depressive episode about four years ago and that led to a very unexpected suicide attempt then,” Guzman-Cottrill said. “While we were in the hospital with him at OHSU our family was given a medication lockbox as part of the home safety planning. My husband and I took all of our medications out of all of the bathroom drawers, all of the kitchen cabinets, including all of the over-the-counter medications that we have and we placed them into this lockbox.”

She says while it was just one component of their safety plan, it was an easy way to make their home safer in terms of suicide prevention.

“This is a program that I know touches many, many families who have children suffering from depression, anxiety, and have a needed safety plan in their homes,” said Guzman-Cottrill. “Firsthand I can say my family, my child, we’re a great example that suicide ideations, ideas of suicide and despair, and a child actually getting to the attempt can happen to any family.”

Dr. Johnson suggests securing medication in home with children 10 years and older.

“If not younger than that, because we just don’t know when a kid may get acutely upset and make a bad decision for themselves,” Johnson said. “There is data from a research study here at OHSU looking at national data that demonstrated that we have seen a quadrupling of the number of kids ages 10 to 12 who have attempted suicide by means of medication overdoses in the last 20 years. I want to emphasis the importance of securing medicine even in the homes of younger kids.”

He says research data also shows an increase in suicide attempts during the school year.

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“Many youth in our community are struggling with suicidal ideation and school actually, we know from reviewing out data, is a time of stress and strain for many vulnerable kids,” Johnson said. “Lethal means restriction is an incredible important way of decreasing the risk of dying by suicide from an impulsive act. The acute phase of a suicidal crisis is often very brief, so if we can use a medication lock box or a firearm safe storage device to obstruct that suicidal impulse, we can save lives.”

The OHSU Doernbecher Tom Sargent Safety Resource Center has more than lockboxes: they also provide locking bags for portable safe storage, and a thumb print security vault. Dr. Johnson says if a family isn’t eligible to receive a lockbox for free, they can still purchase them for $25 or a portable locking bag for $15.

If anyone is interested in learning more about the program, call their Safety Center at 503-418-5666.