May 19, 2017
The Board of County Commissioners Thursday proclaimed May as Mental Health Month in Multnomah County.
Mental Health Month began in 1949 to raise awareness about mental illness and the importance of mental health for everyone. The goal is to reduce stigma by encouraging people to talk about their mental health challenges and inform others on how to access help.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran sponsored the proclamation. An emergency physician, Meieran told the audience of her firsthand experience caring for people in crisis. Mental health, she said, is close to her heart.
Ebony Clarke is the deputy director for the county’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division. She urged people to think of mental health as important as physical health.
“Recovery is possible and Multnomah County is here to help,” Clarke said. “To those who are struggling, there is hope.’’
Multnomah County provides mental health services to all residents at every level of need. That includes treatment for adults, children and families, mental health information and resources, and Mental Health First Aid and suicide intervention classes.
The proclamation included testimony from LaKeesha Dumas, who coordinates the county’s new Office of Consumer Engagement (OCE). The office employs consumers with lived experience to make recommendations on county mental health and addiction policies
Dumas spoke of her own challenges as a child and young person and then, recovery and the value of receiving support from someone who overcame similar struggles. If it weren’t for that experience, she said, she wouldn’t be where she is today. “Seeing it and living it are two different things,’’ she said.
“I began my road to recovery because someone who had been in my shoes and understood the place of desperation I was in and extended a hand,” Dumas said. “It gave me hope and changed the whole course of my destructive pattern. I hope it inspires others to get help.’’
Peja Barron followed Dumas’ testimony. As a Reynolds Middle School student enrolled in a county-sponsored art therapy program, she shared her own experience with mental health issues.
More than 20 of Peja’s classmates listened as Peja described her difficult childhood. But once she enrolled in the “Girls’ Group” program, she said, her mental health issues started to improve.
“Before I joined the group, I was so nervous,” Peja said. “It helped me with my depression and is a place where you can come and talk. It’s not only art-based, but a place you can express your emotions. It helps prevent bad things from happening."
The youth presented the board with a photo book titled ”Photo Action Reframing Ourselves 2017”
Dr. Sharon Meieran also acknowledged two other mental health heroes: Kevin Fits, who she commended for his leadership in peer support, and David Hidalgo, Mental Health and Addiction Services Director.
Commissioners thanked the speakers who shared their personal stories.
“You are all rock stars,’’ said Commissioner Loretta Smith. “I’m going to work really hard with my colleagues to figure out ways to make sure our most vulnerable communities have access to mental health services.”
“This really shows how much our community values the way we’re looking at people experiencing mental illness. (Mental health) is such an important part of our community,” Chair Deborah Kafoury added.
For that reason, Chair Kafoury said she has worked on a program offer to put additional mental health specialists in schools.
“The need is so great,” Kafoury said. “Helping people at an early age can really change the trajectory of their lives.”