LEADERSHIP VOICES

Bringing suicide out of the shadows
With Gordon H. Smith

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In 2003 my wife Sharon and I received the worst news that any parent can receive when a police officer showed up at our door to inform us that our 21-year-old son Garrett had taken his life. That day and the days and weeks that followed were the most painful imaginable. With that one event Sharon and I became members of an immense fraternity of sorrow. I had never been aware of or imagined the size of this silent and shapeless society, but the avalanche of letters confirmed what my studies later taught me: There are 30,000 suicides and as many as 650,000 attempts at suicide in America every year.

With the 2004 final passage of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, named for our son, I felt that, in my role as United States Senator from Oregon, I had done something to bring suicide's brutal toll out of our society's shadows. But more needs to be achieved to counter the tragic effects of suicide on our society that is so diminished by our fellow citizens who suffer needlessly and die prematurely at their own hand. This includes knowledge transfer that can help close the gap between new, research-tested interventions, and their widespread use by those most in need.

As parents, we believe that when we seek out behavioral health services for our children, that these will reflect best practices in the field—research-tested interventions that represent the latest state-of-the-science. Moreover, when we send our children to high school or college, we as parents assume that their best interests—including their emotional health—will be considered by the teachers, professors and student services professionals who come in contact with them. But this transfer of science to service can only be fully achieved when we have broad groups of professionals collaborating and sharing best practices.

Gordon H. Smith
Former United States Senator (R-OR)