New app aims to curb rise in youth suicides

Bend police, others design app to offer support

App hopes to help prevent youth suicide

BEND, Ore. - After a string of youth suicides in Central Oregon, Bend police decided something needed to be done.

So the department, along with several other Central Oregon agencies, created an app called First Step.

The app can be downloaded by anyone, and it provides help in preventing suicide at the touch of a button.

The idea for the app came after Bend Police saw more than a dozen youth suicides across Central Oregon in the past year.

First Step provides phone numbers to call or text for help, nearby therapists, tips for helping a friend or getting through the day, free counseling and more.

Bend-La Pine Schools already has rolled the app out on all school iPads, and students have been given the information so they can download it on their personal phones.

Bend police Sgt. Scott Vincent spearheaded the project with the goal of providing students with resources in a location they know all too well, their phone. 

"Our idea was to create a toolbox for people who are in crisis, whether it was a parent or a child or whether it was about a friend," Vincent said Tuesday. "But we wanted to give them a toolbox, so that they could go in and have a game plan of, 'How do I address this? Where do I get help? What is good information that I can give somebody if they're in crisis?'"

According to Deschutes County Health Services, between 2010 and 2015, among 15-24 year-olds, Central Oregon saw 25.4 suicides per 100,000 people, higher than the rate of 14.4 for Oregon as a whole.

"In fact, Oregon is quite a bit higher than the national average," Vincent said. "We're about 41 percent higher in suicide rates across the nation, and we're seeing that with our kids. We've had a substantial increase in teen self-harm and suicide."

Mike Dupras is the parent of a Summit High School junior and Realms Middle School 8th grader. He said he sees the community's suicide prevention efforts as a good thing, especially in this day and age. 

"Growing up in the late '70s, early '80s, I feel like we had our own challenges and everything, but we didn't have computers in our hands all the time," Dupras said. "And I feel like that definitely causes a lot more concerns with cyberbullying, social bullying, all those other stresses that the kids have to learn how to appropriately deal with."

Bend Police would like to see the new app help bring down the high numbers of youth suicide happening in Central Oregon.

"The hope is that when kids are in crisis and they're in a really dark spot that first step will be a light-form that will give them hope and give them the perseverance to move on and to give them resources. And when you're in that dark place, there are people out there to help you and you just need to reach out," Vincent said.

You can download the app in the Apple app store or the Google Store under 'First Step OR'

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