Shining a Light on Mental Health Awareness Month

Americans are experiencing mental health illnesses at record numbers. Low-barrier access to care is essential in helping those who are struggling.

May 11, 2023

At Unity Center for Behavioral Health, we strive to stomp out stigma that persists around mental health and we work with our partners across Oregon to build a strong, coordinated care network so that all people can access the care they need, when they need it. Through collaboration, empathy, education, advocacy and open dialogue we can ensure that those struggling with mental illness feel heard and cared for.

According to Mental Health America’s 2022 State of Mental Health in America report, nearly 20% of adult Americans experienced a mental illness, with 24.7% finding their treatment needs unmet – that’s more than half of adults with a mental illness who did not receive treatment, totaling more than 27 million U.S. adults.

The statistics for children are no better. More than 60% of youth with a major depressive disorder did not receive any mental health treatment and more than 15% of all American youth experienced a major depressive order in one year. That means 1 in 3 children went without treatment – even in states with the strong access to care.

Here in Oregon, we ranked No. 46 in the nation for mental illness prevalence and lack of access to care for all ages, according to Mental Health America – putting the state near the bottom. This ranking is based on 15 factors that include access to care, substance use, lack of insurance, and a number of other key indicators. We ranked No. 49 in adult mental illness prevalence and 45th for youth mental illness prevalence. Unfortunately, Oregon ranked very low or even at the lowest in several other categories, according to the study.

What does this mean? It means we need to bolster advocacy, awareness and access to care. There are a number of steps we must take to ensure people have the care they need, and that includes safe, affordable housing.

And regardless of someone’s housing status or income, everyone should be able to access a mental health professional and drug use rehabilitation. The more we break down barriers to care, the better people’s lives can be.

Taking a Deeper Look at Mental Health in Oregon

Recently, Unity Center President Melissa Eckstein shared her thoughts on the state of behavioral health care in Oregon with Becker’s Healthcare in the article, “Care that is human-centered: 1 executive’s hope for mental healthcare.”

“We must challenge ourselves to address (patients’ needs) from a unified approach, not as siloed agencies and organizations,” Eckstein told Becker’s Healthcare. “Strengthening community partnerships, reducing redundancy in our system of care and ensuring our staff are safe to do their work are ways to achieve this priority.”

She went on to explain that funding for behavioral health care on both the state and federal level is higher than ever, and that it is essential leaders continue to advocate for that funding “to be used across our state to build out our behavioral health infrastructure for a system of care, crisis services and early, preventative care.”

Lack of access to behavioral health care for children and adolescents in Oregon is also concerning. Experts agree it is at a crisis level. Earlier this year, PBS NewsHour came to Portland to investigate mental illness and access to care. You can see that coverage here, which includes insight from Nick Kintigh, a pediatric psychiatric social worker with Randall Children’s Hospital.

And last year, Eckstein talked with Pat Dooris at KGW-TV about the state of behavioral healthcare in Portland and what’s needed to help the many in Oregon suffering with mental illness. View that insightful segment here.

NAMIWalks 2023
If you’re passionate about raising awareness around mental illness, check out this year’s NAMIWalks 2023 events in Oregon and Washington. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an essential organization helping millions find the mental health resources they need to live fulfilling lives. 

NAMIWalks Northwest
When: May 21, 2023
Where: Peninsula Park, Portland, Ore.
Learn more and register

NAMIWalks Washington
: June 3, 2023
Where: Marina Park, Kirkland, Wash.
Learn more and register

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8.

– Elizabeth Baker,