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5 mental health support suggestions Bethel students gave Wyden

Register-Guard - 2/20/2020

Sen. Ron Wyden on Tuesday met with Willamette High School students in the Bethel School District to hear their thoughts on how students' mental health and suicide prevention efforts can be better supported.

Wyden shared that the issue of mental health support was "deeply personal" for him, as his brother had schizophrenia and he often worried about his well-being. He also noted being in a position to bring mental health solutions to the federal level, being the "ranking Democrat" on the finance committee, which has jurisdiction over much of what the government spends on mental health, such as Medicaid.

"This is an issue we've made progress on, but we're light years away from where we need to be," he said.

Wyden spoke with teachers and students from the Sources of Strength class, which is an elective students can take to learn how to be peer leaders and help support their classmates through tough times with a compassion, strengths-focused approach.

The students offered a few suggestions for ways to help improve students' mental health -- some of which tied into legislation Wyden said he is already in the early stages of creating.

1. Expansion of peer-based mental health programs to all districts

Many students emphasized the impact Sources of Strength has had on improving their mental health and the culture of peer support at the school. They said having enough funding devoted to districts bringing in programs like this one would have a huge impact on not only students' well-being but also their grades and path to graduating on time. Some students involved with the program have gone from having more than 10 D's and F's to none.

"I think Sources is something that definitely needs to be spread," said senior Brennen Croy. The program has helped Croy better support friends and find support as well. "It's just to show people, 'I'm here,'" Croy said.

2. Start talking mental health in elementary school

Discussions about mental health are not happening soon enough, students said.

Because of this, Bethel has a curriculum built to bring the Sources of Strength program into its elementary schools starting next school year.

"The program is really eye opening, because people have more in common than they think," said Mariah Gates-Ray, who is a senior and plans to work with the new implementation of the Sources of Strength program in elementary schools.

Wyden said he plans to approach the finance committee with the idea of providing more mental health resources and programs in primary grades.

3. Create a school-based shelter

Student Lia Wasson proposed creating a house (or shelter) just for students in Bethel who are homeless, as a way to eliminate barriers to getting an education and that particular stressor. This was met with enthusiasm from adults in the room, including County Commissioner Pat Farr.

Wyden was also on board and noted that the idea tied into legislation he plans to propose called the "Decent, Affordable, Safe Housing for all Act."

"What I hope to be able to do ... is in 2021, we would roll back some of the tax breaks that the people at the top got, and states would get a chunk of money each year," he said. "The first three years would be devoted to ending childhood homelessness, that you would get a decent shelter over the head of every child."

4. Business partnerships to supply other basic needs

Students also noted other basic needs that impact mental health and stress on students, such as food, clothing and shoes. Wyden said there could be an opportunity to partner with Oregon-born companies such as Nike and Columbia to help ease these burdens.

5. Provide free, compassion-based solutions

One student also noted that some mental health resources point to things that cost money, such as therapy. This could prevent some students from seeking the help. They suggested recreating suicide prevention programs to be less focused on solutions that come at a price to the person who needs it, and highlight other resources that are based off "genuine care and concern," that are also free.

Follow Jordyn Brown on Twitter @thejordynbrown or email at jbrown@registerguard.com.

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