Mental health services for young people a "grave situation"

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Tue, May 20 2014 at 5:17 PM, Updated: Thu, May 22 2014 at 12:47 AM

Grants Pass, Ore. -- When it comes to mental health care for kids and young adults in Southern Oregon, the situation is grave. That's according to a Rogue Regional Medical Center psychiatrist.

On Monday, NBC 5 spoke with RRMC and Medford Police officials about the lack of mental health help in Jackson County and the state of Oregon. However, the reality is it's our young people in particular who some say are suffering the most.

Surviving with mental illness
   
A tattoo on 21-year-old Lauren Conn's arm is a constant reminder that it wasn't too long ago that she was in a dark place.

"It says you never need to apologize about how you chose to survive," read Conn.

The quote is from a poem and now covers scars from cutting herself.

"I got it over the scars on my arm to remind myself that it's not something I need to apologize for or be ashamed of," Conn said.

For Conn, surviving her teen years and the transition between middle school and high school was difficult.

"I was 14 when the depression got bad and it was within that same year when the self harm started and I think I was 15 when the eating disorder really came into play," explained Conn.

However at 18, Conn said she hit her lowest point when she was raped. It was then that she realized she needed help. She got it at Kairos, a Grants Pass organization that helps teens and young adults living with mental illness.  

Not enough help for young people

But not everyone is so fortunate to get mental health help specifically tailored for youth.

"It's really a grave situation right now with children and adolescents."

Rogue Regional Medical Center psychiatrist Dr. Anne O'Connell said the psych unit at RRMC that's typically used for people in a mental health crises, is not an ideal place to treat young people as it can be traumatic.

"Police are coming in with violent agitated patients ... The only acute psychiatric in-patient facilities for adolescents and children are both up in Portland," said O'Connell.

Least served population: young adults

While she said there's a lack of services for children, others say young adults specifically are suffering as well.

"The population that has probably been the least served, locally statewide and nationally is young adults," said Bob Lieberman, the CEO of Kairos.

"The adult system isn't attuned to the developmental needs of people who are in many ways still in late adolescence," he continued. 

According to Lieberman, statewide there are less than 100 high end psychiatric beds for kids under 18. It's worse when it comes to  intensive beds in secure facilities for severely troubled young adults, ages 17-24

"For young adults at this level of care, there's 12," said Lieberman.

He said there's only a dozen beds for the entire state of Oregon, and he says all of those beds are at Three Bridges in Grants Pass, a one of a kind program in the country, run by Kairos. It's the same program where Conn found the help she needed.

"They use a more strengths based and trauma informed approach," began Conn.

"A lot of programs, it's like they're just pointing out everything that's wrong with you," she said.

Coping with mental illness

While she said she is proud of how far she's come, she still has moments where she struggles.

"I'm not going to lie and say everyday is easy or I'm happy all the time because that's just not how it is. I definitely still struggle with anxiety, mild depression but I've learned how to manage that," said Conn.

Now she just wants to help others and show them that if she can make it they can too.

"I just think it's important with all the bad times in my life to turn that into something good," Conn explained.

She's trying to inspire young people living with mental illness to get help, that while difficult to find, is still out there.

Conn, Lieberman and O'Connell agree there needs to be more prevention efforts in schools and the community.

More resources surfacing soon

However, Lieberman said there are some big plans in the works with new programs for teens and young adults on the horizon.

We'll have more about what's being done to help people struggling with mental illness in part three of my series, coming up on Wednesday.

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About the Author

Christine Pitawanich

Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.

Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.

Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.

Catch Christine anchoring weekdays on NBC 5 News at 5pm.

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