May 18, 2018

The Board of County Commissioners on Thursday proclaimed May as Mental Health Month in Multnomah County. The annual observance raises awareness about mental illness and actions people can take to support their mental health.

One-in-five Multnomah County residents reportedly experiences mental health challenges at some point during their lifetime. Multnomah County helps residents access services through a variety of programs for all age groups and mental health needs.

(Left to right): Brandy Fishback, Carlea Guess and Deandre Kenyanjui shared their stories of healing as guest speakers during the Mental Health Month proclamation Thursday.

“What I like so much about our proclamation is it’s positive, it’s recovery-oriented,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran, the sponsor of the proclamation. “I really appreciate this focus on what we’re doing right and things that are working, and how we can take that and make things better for all of us.”

At the proclamation, clients from Multnomah County-supported programs shared their own stories of healing. DeAndre Kenyanjui works for Multnomah County Health Department’s Office of Consumer Engagement. But not too long ago, he said, his life looked much different. After experiencing mental health and addiction issues, he found community through Central City Concern. Now, he mentors other people who have encountered similar obstacles.

“It wasn’t that long ago when I didn’t have a voice and I was struggling with mental health and addiction issues,” he said. “I think we all have a responsibility to respond to those people in need.”

As a teenager, Brandy Fishback began to abuse drugs after witnessing drug use in her household during her childhood. She coped with anxiety and depression and struggled to stay clean. After being hospitalized, Fishback got connected with Central City Concern. While recovering, she participated in every activity she could to keep busy, including building a bike through Bikes for Humanity and enrolling in a cooking class. Today she works as a graphic designer for Central City Concern.

“My life is so promising now, ” Fishback said. “Today I have the support that I need to do anything that I want to do, thanks to the Impact team at OHSU, Central City Concern and Multnomah County.”

Carlea Guess said she had a great upbringing with loving family and friends. She was also active in choir, track and academics. After a challenging college experience and two traumatic events, Guess experienced her first bout of psychosis in early 2017.

Guess was hospitalized at Unity Center for Behavioral Health. Soon after, she enrolled in the County’s Early Assessment and Support Alliance program. The program helps stabilize young people experiencing mental health issues while also providing job coaching services. Soon after, with support from EASA, she landed a job working for New Seasons.

“I’ve rebuilt my life in a better, stronger way than I ever thought I could,” Guess said.

After hearing their stories, commissioners shared their own experiences with mental health.

David Hidalgo, director of the Mental Health and Addiction Services, speaks during Thursday's meeting.

“I see a mental health provider on a regular basis, and there should not be any stigma in sharing that,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “I want to encourage people to reach out, and get the help that they need, whenever they need it. Commissioner Sharon Meieran echoed Commissioner Stegmann. She said she regularly sees a therapist, herself. “We need to be talking about this,” she said. “This is part of health and important for all of us.”

Chair Deborah Kafoury said the presentation made her think about a survey of students recently conducted Reynolds High School. Students reported that access to mental health services was their top need, outranking all other health services in priority.

“We have over the past few years invested more dollars and time and energy in school-based services,” Kafoury said. “This one small survey in this one large high school really shows the need is out there.”