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Take care: Navigating mental health resources

Editor’s Note: In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, this is Part 5 of a month-long series centering around the many facets of mental health from community, to crime, to survivor stories. Read Part 4, “Suicide attempt survivor shares perspective, advice,” here.

Jeremie Wharton said his passion to work in the mental health field came from his own lived experiences.

As a youth, Wharton said he had a “very troubled home environment” and, despite needing mental health services, he was unable to access any. He added that he wound up in juvenile hall and faced legal trouble as a young adult, too, since he was struggling with substance use issues.

“But there was a turning point for me. I decided I didn’t want somebody else to have to take care of me. I wanted to be a healthy enough person to be able to provide help to other people,” he said. “The last 20-25 years or so has been an incredible pathway of healing of wanting to give back to the community that has helped me and supported me so much, and wanting to provide individuals support that I wasn’t able to access when I was younger to hopefully prevent them from having to suffer in some of the ways I did.”

Wharton is the South Lane Mental Health (SLMH) director of specialized services. He has worked at SLMH – a community-focused, mental health service in South Lane County, primarily in Cottage Grove, which claims to be the region’s largest comprehensive mental health services provider – for over 10 years.

“That (passion) really has led me into the position I am today where I get to direct and steer the agency on how we provide support for our community,” he said. “I stuck with South Lane Mental Health just because every step of the way, I’m getting out so much more than I’m putting in, and I feel like I put in a lot.”

Wharton said he has healed the most in his career by being able to help troubled youth be heard and assisting “their attempts to speak to their care providers in a system that really didn’t have the ears to hear them.”

“It’s incredibly healing not only helping the youth understand themselves and have greater control over their sense of emotion, but having some personal autonomy and awareness over their emotional experience, and also helping care providers and systems understand what their children were communicating to them through their behavior, and then how their actions spoke to those needs,” Wharton said.

It seems a common reason why people may choose to work in the mental health field is because they truly want to make a positive impact on strangers, and they may have had their own personal struggles with mental health as well.

Del Quest, Lane County Public Health suicide prevention coordinator, said they “do suicide prevention work because I’m a clinical social worker, and early on, I lost a client to suicide. I became interested in suicide prevention from that, and I’m also a person who lives with their own thoughts of suicidal ideation.” Quest is not currently seeing clients, but they have been a social worker for over two decades.

Accessing local resources

According to Mental Health America, over half of American adults (54.7%) with a mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling over 28 million people, and over half of American youth (59.8%) with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment.

Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) of Lane County program director Bridget Byfield called Lane County “resource-rich and access poor.”

“I feel like there are a lot of resources. There are a lot of people who really care. I’m not saying we still can’t use more mental health resources, but the problem is you can’t get to them,” Byfield said. “There’s insurance issues, qualification issues, you don’t know who to call, when to call, how to call. We don’t know how to make the connection to the people who are really needing them.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a personal crisis, but even figuring out where your driver’s license is and how to get to the car sometimes can be really challenging in a dramatic situation, much less being able to navigate a mental health situation.”

Byfield said she often refers people in need of mental health resources to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Lane County, and so does Lane County Sheriff’s Office sheriff Cliff Harold.

“Some baseline information about NAMI, which is so cool and unlike every other mental health organization, is: Everything is self-identified. You don’t have to have an official mental health diagnosis, and neither does your family. It’s all just based on your experience and wanting to know more,” said Jennifer MacLean, NAMI Lane County executive director. “It’s really zero barrier. It’s all confidential. There’s zero cost. Nothing’s run through insurance. Nothing is documented. We’re not HIPAA.”

NAMI Lane County has both in-person and Zoom resources, which allows for the free support groups and other services to be reached by more people since commuting would not be a barrier. MacLean did note that having internet access could be a potential barrier for people who are seeking to solely utilize NAMI Lane County’s online services.

The nonprofit’s online calendar shows the different support groups available. Some center the person struggling, and others center the friends and family of someone who is struggling. NAMI Lane County hopes to one day have a peer group and a family group in every community throughout the county, according to MacLean.

MacLean emphasized the importance for people to know what mental health resources there are locally because, “the more they know ahead of time, whenever it happens that their loved one might go into crisis, they already know some resources they can reach out to that might be of support to them.”

“It’s important to me to have all those tools in our back pocket, and unfortunately the people who really need them don’t even have back pockets to have the tools,” Byfield said.

According to NAMI, “mental health stigma is a huge barrier on why many people don’t seek help. We don’t want to be judged for seeking treatment. We don’t want to be defined as weak or incompetent, or even worse, seen as unable to take care of ourselves. Internalizing these stigmas is the first step to feeling (a)shame(d) and embarrassed.”

Wharton said the stigma surrounding mental health issues may impact someone’s desire to speak up about their struggles and receive help.

“It’s amazing, though, how if you just reach out to somebody who you feel you can talk to, people show up for you,” he said. “Being able to find safe people to express yourself is key. People may not know what or how to help you, but it helps having a partner in the search. Find a friend. Find a buddy. Find a way to get help together.”



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