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'People are struggling': Oregon mental health groups make call to action during COVID-19

Although Portland-area 911 and crisis center calls are slightly down, organizations say social isolation could lead to increased risk of suicide and overdose.

PORTLAND, Ore. — During this Mental Health Awareness Month, groups serving Oregon and Washington say there's a critical need to support people struggling in isolation through mental health or addiction problems.

Added stress and financial uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic can increase those risks.

Although Portland-area 911 and Multnomah County crisis center calls are slightly down compared to this time last year, nonprofits and peer support groups like the Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon (MHAAO) face new challenges meeting people's needs.

"We woke up and our world was turned upside down," Reina Bower of MHAAO said. "We can send somebody a Zoom link to mental health or substance use [recovery meetings] or AA, but some people don't even know how to use it. Or people that have cellphones that are houseless aren't able to find charging stations."

MHAAO offers direct peer support to people struggling with addiction or mental health concerns, offering an ear to listen and connections to other resources.

Credit: mhaoforegon.org
Credit: mhaoforegon.org

Hannah Studer, clinical director for Bridges to Change, said Oregon was in a tough spot before stay-at-home orders started. She cites Mental Health America rankings that consistently put Oregon toward the bottom of states handling mental health issues.

"A state and community that's already experiencing a crisis before COVID even happened," Studer said. "And now we have a people who are more isolated and essentially more at risk of death in different ways."

While she said there is a gap in accessing treatment and services, the solution can start with you.

"Just try to connect with someone," Studer said. "Give someone a call. And try to reach out to people who may be experiencing increased isolation or maybe that you haven't heard from yet."

New resources are available to supplement those needs. PeerGalaxy.com, for example, offers lines to support around Oregon.

The Oregon Recovery Network also offers a list of help lines.

Other numbers include:

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