BEND, Ore. - Deschutes County Health Services officials say there's been a steady increase in the rate of suicide over the last decade. In downtown Bend, dozens of people took part in a candlelight vigil Thursday evening to honor those who took their own lives, and to support each other in their own challenges.
One local loss survivor told NewsChannel 21 suicide in the community is a “public health crisis.”
It was an emotional and powerful service at the Bend-La Pine Schools Education Center. People spoke about their experiences with suicide, and one mother sang a song she wrote for her son after he took his own life.
"While we do have a huge problem, together we can find the solutions, and we are pulling together. There is hope," Paula Sullivan, a Bend resident and loss survivor, said as she addressed the crowd.
NewsChannel 21 asked Sullivan and others in attendance to share how suicide has impacted their lives.
"We've lost five people to suicide over nearly 20 years, from my father to close friends who were our age, to two 17-year-old teenagers," Sullivan said. "It's been shattering in its effect on our family, our friends and our community.”
Bend resident Mimi Graves said, "23 years ago this month, my son died of suicide. He was 16. He went to Mountain View High School."
Bend resident Carol Palmer said, "My uncle Jim suicided, after he lost his vision overnight and didn't think he could continue living alone."
We also asked them why services like these are so meaningful and important.
"I got a warm memory of my son, and the thought that I could be there for someone else,” Graves said.
Palmer said, "It is so empowering to have this kind of support of other people. You don't know them personally at all, you may not even exchange names, and yet they're there to support one another."
Sullivan said, "I believe it is a huge, huge issue. The more we talk about it, the less of a chance it's going to have to destroy us."
Officials said middle-aged white men are the largest demographic for people who have died by suicide in Deschutes County. They also said Deschutes County has the fifth-highest rate of suicide out of Oregon's 36 counties.
The state of Oregon as a whole has the highest rate of mental illness in the country, according to QuoteWizard.
For more information and resources about suicide prevention, visit the ‘Let's Talk’ page under the Community tab of KTVZ.COM.