By Joe Gardyasz


Gordon Smith knows firsthand the enormous grief and sense of failure from losing a child to suicide. On Sept. 8, 2003, he learned that his son, Garrett, had committed suicide, just one day before his 22nd birthday.


Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon who now leads the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), spoke this morning to a group of Greater Des Moines community leaders about NAB's participation in a nationwide public awareness campaign with a message targeted to teens and young adults: It's OK to talk about mental health issues, and it's OK to seek help.


"This is an issue that does not register as Democrat or Republican; it registers as human," Smith told a cross section of leaders representing mental health agencies, law enforcement and local and state government at a breakfast meeting in West Des Moines organized by the Iowa Association of Broadcasters. Smith was in Des Moines to speak at the state association's annual meeting today.   


Earlier this month, Smith pledged NAB's support to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during a daylong White House conference on mental health that was organized in response to the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings.


As a senator, Smith in 2004 championed federal legislation, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which recognized youth suicide as a public health crisis and provided funding for mental health screening and suicide prevention programs.


In late July, NAB will roll out a radio and television public service announcement campaign in both English and Spanish targeted to young adults ages 13-24, along with a website providing resources and a forum for young adults to share their stories.


"Those airwaves are a precious resource, and we're going to use them to reduce the stigma and elevate the awareness of mental health issues," Smith said. "This is a frontier we really need to cross as a country."