(The Center Square) – Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to reauthorize funding for community-based youth and young adult suicide prevention efforts.

The programs were established under the Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Memorial Act and were set to expire at the end of the fiscal year 2022. Reauthorization of the program authorizes $9 million for the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center, $40 million in state and tribal grants, $7 million for campus grants, and $1 million for mental and behavioral health outreach and education.

“The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial programs save lives and gives hope to young adults in need of rescue from despair. COVID-19 lockdowns have resulted in mental health emergencies, and children and young adults of all ages are in crisis,” said McMorris Rodgers.  

“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t talk to a parent in Eastern Washington who tells me their teenager is depressed,” she continued. “I think about the mom who told me she can’t leave her daughter alone because she harms herself. Or the mom who lost her 23-year-old son to a drug overdose after purchasing a fentanyl-laced pill he thought was Xanax. 

“This is an urgent time to ensure these strong bipartisan programs can continue to support youth in our communities, and I appreciate all my colleagues who are leading this bill with me. Let’s continue to build on this work for a more secure future for the next generation, especially in providing healing for those struggling with the trials of life.” 

According to the Pacific Northwest Suicide Prevention Resource Center (PNSPRC), an average of 2.6 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 kill themselves each week in Washington State. An average of 17 adolescents are admitted to the hospital with non-fatal suicidal behavior.

PNSPRC reports that 20% of 10th-grade students in Washington have seriously considered suicide.

The memorial act was named after the son of former Oregon Congressman Gordon Smith. Garrett died by suicide in his apartment in Utah where he attended college in 2004

In Eastern Washington, GLS Programs helped Washington State University bring additional mental health services to campus between 2016 and 2019, said McMorris Rodgers.

As a result, the university was able to implement campus-wide, collaborative training and help a growing number of students deal with the struggles of depression, anxiety, stress, and thoughts of suicide. 

Studies have shown GLS programs to be effective at reducing youth suicide rates and saving lives, said McMorris Rodgers.

According to a study from 2006 to 2015, counties exposed to GLS initiatives had lower youth suicide rates and sustained them for a longer period of time. Additionally, a similar study found counties implementing GLS programs had significantly lower suicide rates for youth and young adults following implementation, which was estimated to have averted 79,000 suicide attempts.

To date, the GLS act has provided funding for 68 state, territory, and tribal community grants, and 74 college campus grants for suicide prevention efforts. Suicide prevention activities supported by GLS grantees have included education, training programs, gatekeeper training, screening activities, infrastructure for improved linkages to services, crisis hotlines, and community partnerships.

Through participation in both local- and cross-site evaluations, GLS grantees are generating data regarding the local context, proximal outcomes, and implementation of programs, as well as opportunities for improvement of suicide prevention efforts.

McMorris Rodgers was joined in introducing the bill to renew programs under the GLS act by Reps. Lori Trahan, D-Massachusetts, Kim Young, R-California, and Cindy Axne, D-Iowa.

McMorris Rodgers has served in Congress since 1994. She represents the 5th Congressional District, which encompasses the eastern third of Washington and includes Spokane, the state’s second-largest city.

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