BEND, Ore. - It was a packed room at the City Club of Central Oregon's latest forum at St. Charles in Bend Thursday.
"Mental illness is not something we talk about - we're not comfortable with it," said Dr. Susan Keys, a senior researcher on mental health at OSU-Cascades.
The timing for the forum couldn't be more critical.
"We're a raw community, because we lost a young person recently," Keys said.
The forum addressed mental health concerns in our community -- referred to as "the elephant in the room," as it's so rarely talked about publicly.
The topic was selected several months ago -- but made more relevant by a Bend High Student who recently took his own life at school, a tragedy shedding light on an issue your neighbors deal with every day.
"A close family member of mine has attempted suicide five times in the last three years," said one woman in the audience.
Keys said, "In Deschutes County, in 2012, we lost 33 people to suicide. It's a real tragic public health problem in our community."
Mental health experts shared their experiences and insight, and talked about the struggles for access to mental health care.
"If you've got commercial insurance and you need a psychiatric appointment it may take you six months,"said St. Charles Chief Behavioral Health Officer Robin Henderson.
Another topic was the stigma surrounding the mentally ill.
"It's not sexy and cool to have depression," Henderson said.
And much of the discussion focused on preventing suicides.
"If you know what to look for, you can catch something in time. Not every time, but if you know what to look for and you know to take action," Keys said.
Experts said the key could start with education.
"If we started education about mental health and depression in the fourth grade, when we start sex education -- imagine what that would be like when a child graduates high school," Henderson said.
It was a chance to bring the community together to start conversations and spur changes in the wake of tragedy.
The Deschutes County Suicide Prevention Advisory Council is holding a suicide prevention training on March 20th. The free training will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Westside Church's west campus.
More information can be found at www.deschutes.org/suicideprevention .