BEND, Ore. - An inspiring speaker paid a visit to Bend's Sky View Middle School Thursday to address the difficult issue of teen suicide. Thursday night, he held a conference for the public, organized by the non-profit Younity.
A mother and son attending the conference spoke with NewsChannel 21 about the topic, sharing their experiences with those challenges firsthand.
Preston Blackburne is a senior at Mountain View High School. He's going to COCC next year and loves photography. But a few years ago, as a freshman, life as a teenager started to overwhelm him.
He got straight As in middle school, with perfect attendance, but that started to slip. Then, that October, he was supposed to come to his mother's office at St. Charles in Bend.
"I hadn't heard from him," said Preston's mother, Rebecca Uecker. "I sent him a text, and the texts were off."
Preston recalled, "One of those texts, the last one, was, 'Are you dead?' And my response was, 'Not yet'."
Preston went on medication and had intensive therapy, but by Thanksgiving, he had another breakdown.
"We had locked up medicines," Uecker said. "We had locked up solvents.We had locked up cleaners, nail polish, anything sharp that we thought we could find. Our knife drawer. And he found things we'd missed, like paint and push pins, and had piled them in his room and wrote a note."
Preston said he needed more help, so he went to a residential treatment facility.
Then he found a passion -- photography. Since then, he's been snapping pictures and dabbling in graphic design. He's in high spirits now, and attributes his turnaround to the help he received.
"You have to ask," he said. "You don't know what you're going to get until you ask."
Jeff Yalden, the speaker, is someone who struggles with similar issues. He came to Bend to help assure others who might be afraid to ask for help in dark times.
"As I kind of look at myself and my mental illness, I really struggle to know who I am and to better myself and to be able to live with it every day," Yalden said. "I think it's really important to be able to share my story with young people."
Preston's mother said she recognizes from her experience what she could have done to help, and will keep that in mind as his younger brother reaches his teenage years.
"I had done some things wrong," she said. "I really had an expectation of perfectionism, and that was harmful, because he thought the only way that he would get my acceptance is if he was perfect."
And from a mother who knows from experience, a final message to other parents:
"Let your kids know that they are the important thing, not their success. That they have intrinsic value just as your child, and that you love them unconditionally."
The state of Oregon is consistently ranked last in mental healthcare, and the suicide rate has been higher than the national average for the last three decades.
For a list of suicide prevention hotlines around the state and other information, visit the Oregon Health Authority website.
And to see what Younity does for Central Oregon youth, visit their website: http://www.younityus.org/