More mental health help on the horizon

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Wed, May 21 2014 at 5:41 PM, Updated: Thu, May 22 2014 at 12:46 AM

Medford, Ore. -- The state of Oregon is putting the most money ever toward mental health services, that's according to State Representative Peter Buckley (D-Ashland).

The increased state funding means there are a lot of exciting things that are happening in Southern Oregon, like more mental health services that are set to start up soon.    

It's good news for Halima Anderson, who has lived with mental illness all her life. After getting help for the first time at Jackson County Mental Health about two years ago, she's motivated to help others.

She said for the majority of her life, she felt worthless.

"The worthless thoughts running through your head, we call them the tapes that will never shut up and they don't. They just keep going, going," said Anderson.

"You get to a point like I can't take this anymore," she continued.

For Anderson, suicide was not an option, so she got help at Jackson County Mental Health and she is glad she did.

"I'm approaching happiness, dare I say it," Anderson laughed.

Anderson now wants to share that happiness with others living with mental illness. That's why she's become a peer support specialist at the Compass House in Medford. It's set to open in July.

"Compass House is a club house for individuals with mental health diagnoses. It offers a peer support network," said Matthew Vorderstrasse, the Executive Director at Compass House.

Another peer based program is opening up in about a month specifically for young people in Medford. They're a group many say is severely under served.

"There's a young adult hub which will be like drop-in center with some leadership training and other kinds of opportunities," said Bob Lieberman, CEO of Kairos. Kairos is a Grants Pass organization that helps youth with mental health issues.

Lauren Conn, a peer support specialist at The Hub, suffered with mental illness when she was a teen.

Conn said she wishes she had access to peer support programs when she was younger.

"Having a drop-in center have having peer support specialists that I could work with, I think that would have really made a difference for me," said Conn.

In addition, Jackson County Mental Health is expanding their services as well.

"We've added new staff, we've opened new services. The crisis team now has a respite center which is a 5 bed facility," said Anna D'amato with Jackson County Mental Health.

The beds are for people just coming out of the hospital or for people who want to avoid hospitalization.

Those are just a few of the new services springing up in the Rogue Valley, helped in part by more funding from the state.

"In the current budget, the 2013-2015 budget, we have the largest investment in mental health services in our state's history," said Representative Buckley.

While Buckley said it's a step in the right direction, he acknowledges it's far from enough.

"It's something we're trying to move forward on, we do have a ways to go, but the good news is ... there is political will, I believe to move forward," Buckley said.

While new programs are surfacing, officers at the Medford Police Department continue to see a growing number of mental health calls. They're undergoing special training to make sure they're prepared.

"We've trained about 90 officers in intervention training in Jackson County, 45 from MPD, 45 from other agencies," said Lieutenant Curtis Whipple with Medford Police.

As part of their training, MPD officers get a chance to see what it's really like to have a mental illness, by wearing headphones for two to four hours that simulate what someone with schizophrenia might hear.

While Medford Police said mentally ill people they deal with can be violent, Matt Vorderstrasse with Compass House said it's crucial to recognize that not everyone acts violently.

"The majority of the mental health community are unseen," began Vorderstrasse.

"This is your neighbor, this is your son, this is your daughter, these are people who are all around you," he said.

"People out there stop being so darn fearful. We're not going to attack you, we're not aliens, we're people. We're human beings," said Anderson.

She and Vorderstrasse are asking people to have compassion and a little understanding.

"Just walk in my moccasins for one day and see how long you last," Anderson said.

Her lifelong experience dealing with mental illness is motivating her to help other people who will soon have access to a little more help  in Southern Oregon.

Compass House, the peer support organization in Medford is on track to open July 1st.

The Hub, which is the peer support organization for young people, is tentatively scheduled to open in the beginning of June.

Additional resources:

Kairos - (541) 956-4943

Jackson County Mental Health - Mental help crisis line (541) 774-8201

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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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