PORTLAND, Oregon — A U.S. Cabinet secretary came to Portland on Thursday to talk about the region's mental health crisis and how the federal government can do more to help.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra visited Lines For Life, the nonprofit dedicated to preventing substance abuse and suicide.
Gov. Kate Brown was also there, as were some Oregon members of Congress. They spoke but did more listening to people on the front lines of the mental health crisis.
Beyond top-elected leaders, the roundtable included health care leaders, educators and advocates, all of whom spoke about increasing needs and not nearly enough resources for behavioral health care for kids and adults.
Becerra brought a message of hope, touting President Joe Biden’s plan to put an additional $51.7 billion toward behavioral health care over the next 10 years if it gets through Congress.
“So I urge you to just recognize that for the first time, we've got the person who can lead us on this at the national level and say 'I'm there.' And that's critical because if we let that drop, who knows when we have another chance to do it,” said Becerra.
With the two years of pandemic we spent in a pandemic, times have been tough. It was especially hard on young people who spent a lot of time isolated and away from their classmates.
“The population of this country, the population of this state has been under constant duress," said Chris Bouneff, executive director of National Alliance of Mental Illness Oregon. "That anxiety has not only taken a toll on youth and families it's taken a toll on all of us."
“They need us to advocate for them and if we join together, we can provide a lifesaving support,” added Jennifer Scurlock, a teacher from Eugene.
For part of HHS Secretary Becerra's visit, he heard from some of that lifesaving support. He met with teenagers who volunteer with Lines for Life's Youth Line, a peer-to-peer mental health crisis line for suicide prevention which serves young people in Oregon and beyond.
Secretary Becerra said the teen volunteers made a great impression on him.
"We've got peers that are helping these young folks. That's got to give you some promise that this will be done well, so long as we invest,” said Becerra.
Another topic discussed at the gathering was the national launch of 988 as a suicide prevention crisis line in mid-July. That service is already active throughout much of Oregon.