State of Mental Health: Lack of treatment puts mentally ill in danger

Junction City, Ore — Southern Oregon could be facing a mental health crisis. The resources to care for the area’s most vulnerable simply aren’t there and it could get worse.

In part two of this NBC5 news special report on the state of mental health we get exclusive access into the Oregon State Hospital system, and a look at what’s being done to help the criminally insane.

If you’re someone with a severe mental illness, you’re more likely to be a victim of a crime than a perpetrator. Even so, many jails are filled with those who should be receiving care, not prison sentences. That’s where the Oregon State Hospital system comes in, but that care is also at risk.

Governor Kate Brown may close one of the two psychiatric hospitals in the state next year, in an effort to balance the budget.

“It probably started when she was in high school, there was a change in her” said Cheryl Spangler.

As a mother, all Cheryl Spangler wanted for her daughter Abra was a normal life.

“You hope that the only thing you go through with your kid is, at worst a broken leg, a divorce, or troubles getting a job,” said Spangler.

Abra was different, an illness was growing in her that couldn’t be cured only controlled.

“It was probably bipolar, and then the next time it was SAD, schizo-effective disease, and then they went, ‘we’re pretty sure it’s schizophrenia,” said Spangler.

Imagine, you’re sitting in a room with over 100 televisions, all on different channels with the volume turned all the way up. Now try to concentrate on one television, one sentence. Now imagine that noise every minute, every hour, every day. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness this is life for 2.4 million Americans diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“She goes through that kind of thing, and it’s constant, she burned herself with cigarettes because the voices said they were doing that to her son, so she would do it to herself, hoping they would be nicer to her son, she has pretty deep scars,” said Spangler.

At 30 years old and pregnant with her first child, Abra’s family sought help.

“They tried medicine after medicine and there was one where she would get up and fall down, she would black out.”

Years of trial and error brought her to the Oregon State Hospital in Junction City, a facility that caters to the needs of the state’s most ill, while also preparing them for life after treatment.

“People are learning to be line cooks, people are learning dishwashing, barista skills, woodworking,” said Kerry Kelly, Deputy Superintendent of the Hospital.

The unique layout of the hospital mimics the real world, with libraries, a bank, even a salon.

“One of the things we are always trying to do is help clients learn internal skills, how to not rely on external ways of staying calm but internal ways,” said Kelly. That structure, Spangler says, may have saved her daughters life.

“If she hadn’t of had that medication, and these people diagnosing her in the jail and in the hospital, I’m terrified thinking what would have happened to her.”

However; the hospital could close next year due to a budget proposal by Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

That’s creating uncertainty for the hospital’s 81 patients, nearly 2 dozen of whom are from Southern Oregon.

If no room is found at Salem’s hospital, those patients would return to their communities, many of which simply don’t have the ample resources needed to care for them.

“Most counties don’t have that local ability, they just don’t have placement for people to give them regular counseling and regular medications to where they can aid and assist,” said Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert.

“When you think of the statistics, 1 in 4 to 1 in 6 people at some point in their life will have a problem with mental health that effects their ability to function and there aren’t nearly enough hospital beds for that,” said Kelly.

While Abra has moved to a different home, Spangler says it’s a dangerous idea.

“I’m surprised at how little we do for them, like wanting to close down the hospital, they never really gave it a chance, and they’re basically taking the weakest population and just putting them out there.”

She says more help is needed, not less.

“We need to be proud of what we do for the mentally ill, not be ashamed and put it under the carpet,” said Spangler.

Abra now lives at an adult foster care home in cottage grove, while her mother cares for her two boys.

Governor Kate Brown has said she is willing to keep the State Hospital in Junction City open if additional funds are found and won’t veto a plan to keep it open.

For more information about schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness

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Matt Jordan is the Chief Meteorologist for KOBI-TV NBC5. Matt joined the NBC5 weather team in 2014 after a year as a reporter and anchor in Alexandria, Louisiana. His experience with the severe weather of the Deep South and a love of the Pacific Northwest led him to pursue a certification with Mississippi State University as a Broadcast Meteorologist. You can find Matt working in the evenings of NBC5 News at 5, 6 and 11 as well as online. Matt also has a degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon. In addition to being passionate about news and weather, Matt is a BIG Oregon Ducks fan. When not rooting for the Ducks or tracking down the next storm over the Pacific, Matt can be found outdoors in the Oregon wilderness with his wife, his daughter and their dogs Stanley and Gordi.
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