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New website lets teens help teens with mental health struggles

Register-Guard - 9/11/2019

The risk of young people dying by suicide rises around the start of the school yea, studies find.

A Eugene-based organization is working to provide young people with resources by connecting them to young adults who have gone through similar struggles.

Youth Era, a 10-year-old nonprofit headquartered in Eugene, just revealed its new website youthempowerment.com during National Suicide Prevention Month. The website publishes resources and stories for young people on topics like coping strategies, mental health and suicide prevention -- the website launch went "beyond expectations" and had 36,000 visitors before noon Tuesday.

Youth Era is premised on the idea of connecting those in need to people with similar experiences -- Martin Rafferty, the organization's CEO, struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts as a teenager.

"At the end of the day, the only thing that really helped me was peer support," Martin said.

While the internet looked different at the time for the now 32-year-old, Martin remembers being unable to find helpful resources.

"For me, youthempowerment.com is an echo of that request I made as a young person."

With the understanding that youth can experience higher rates of anxiety and depression when spending time online, the organization designed the website in an effort to bring connectedness and hope to the digital world. Young authors on the website draw on their own experiences and passions to help others going through similar struggles with anxiety, depression, relationship struggles, suicide, etc. It's modeled after an the Australian website reachout.com.

Financial support from the the Oregon Health Authority and health-provider Trillium helped ensure the site will remain ad-free.

"The last thing that a young person in need in that moment is to get baited and switched by a resource that actually is just trying to sell them something, rather than provide them real support," Martin said.

Youth Era is one of many groups making an effort to address Oregon's mental health concerns. This year, Oregon became one of the first states in the country to write into law that students can take excused "mental health days," the same way they would take sick days.

In Oregon, nearly one in three students reported feeling "sad and hopeless" every day for two weeks, according to data from the 2017 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey. The survey is given to eighth and 11th graders to fill out anonymously every two years.

In Lane County, the number of students who said they considered attempting suicide in the past year was 19.3%, a few points above the state average, and between 33% and 35% of students said they had felt so sad or hopeless for a prolonged time they had stopped doing some of their normal activities.

Follow Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT or email at Tatiana@registerguard.com.

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