Multnomah County Board proclaims May as Mental Health Awareness Month 2024

May 22, 2024

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners proclaimed May 2024 as Mental Health Awareness Month, reaffirming the County’s commitment to its ongoing work to help people achieve mental and behavioral health wellness.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners proclaimed May 2024 as Mental Health Awareness Month, reaffirming the County’s commitment to its ongoing work to help people achieve mental and behavioral health wellness.  

Mental Health Awareness Month is a national recognition that’s been celebrated since 1949, and it’s acknowledged every May in Multnomah County. 

“When we think about safe and stable communities that support people's emotional and mental health, we know Multnomah County has such an important role to play as our state's largest safety net provider,” said Chair Jessica Vega Pederson.

That includes young people seeking a friendly ear at one of the County’s 38 school-based mental health sites across six districts. And it includes people experiencing homelessness seeking peer-support connections at the County’s Behavioral Health Resource Center, Vega Pederson said.

“They come from every ZIP code, every stage of life, every kind of circumstance. Every one of them is a person who deserves all the safety and stability we can offer.”   

“None of this happens without the commitments we make today and throughout Mental Health Awareness Month to be there for each other. To honor the resilience of those impacted by mental health challenges and thank them for their presence and advocacy on days like today. To be vulnerable and share our stories.”

Service providers and other speakers with lived experience joined staff from the Health Department’s Behavioral Health Division to share personal and poignant stories about their mental health journeys. The Health Department serves as the state-designated Local Mental Health Authority for Multnomah County.  

From left: Isiah Bailey, Marlen Sanabria, Sadie Campbell and Heather Mirasol.

This year, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Month is “Access for All.” 

“As we all know, we live in a changing world, and the complexity of needs is ever-evolving,” said Heather Mirasol, director of the Behavioral Health Division. “We’re highlighting the need for accessibility to services and support — particularly for the most vulnerable members of our community.” 

Sadie Campbell, a program specialist with the County’s Office of Consumer Engagement, grew up in an environment that resulted in a high ACES score (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“I’ve struggled with anxiety since I can remember,” said Campbell. “The coping skills that I have learned through my childhood led to years of active substance use in an attempt to get my brain to calm down and/or numb my pain.” 

After spending years cycling through jails and institutions, Campbell said, she has been sober for over 10 years.

“I navigate how to live with my intrusive thoughts on a daily basis.” 

“Working within the Local Mental Health Authority while navigating my own mental health challenges is far from easy,” Campbell said, “but I’m honored to be in a position in which I get to uplift and amplify the voices of those with lived experience.”

System navigation is one of the largest hurdles for anyone attempting to access services. 

People dealing with mental health challenges can and do recover, Campbell emphasized. But, she noted, “work needs to continue to better serve our community and lastly but not least: Access for everyone is the bare minimum.”

Marlen Sanabria, a Latina who works in culturally specific recovery services, described her journey as a person in long-term recovery who’s struggled with mental health.

Marlen Sanabria (right), a Latina who works in culturally specific recovery services, described her journey as a person in long-term recovery who’s struggled with mental health.

Leaning on her personal experiences and stories, Sanabria said she’s provided assistance and support to people struggling with addiction. But the support extends beyond substance use recovery to include addressing underlying mental health issues that many people are initially reluctant to address.

“I didn’t know I struggled with mental health because it’s not something that’s talked about in our culture very often,” said Sanabria. 

“I was struggling with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and, at that time, I didn’t know what it was. I ended up taking a loop to California and Mexico not knowing that I was having a mental health crisis.” 

When Sanabria returned to Oregon, her colleagues helped her identify her struggles and provided help. But then she faced the struggle of finding a culturally specific program. “Trying to find a Latina is a challenge,” she said. 

“There are very few people who speak Spanish who are mental health providers. That’s why it's important we find that support. I love providing translation services, don't get me wrong, but I feel that the message coming from the therapist — words and trauma-informed — gets lost in the translation piece.”

Isiah Bailey, an invited guest with lived experience, shared his struggle with mental health. 

He said his parents grew up in South America and migrated to America, and that “mental health wasn’t something that was talked about.”

At age 7, Bailey was in a car accident that almost took his life. 

“I had massive brain swelling that was brought down chemically. And I went back to life as normal where we didn’t talk about mental health issues.” 

“I was diagnosed with behavioral issues. I was misdiagnosed a lot. It landed me in drug and alcohol abuse,” he said. “My journey didn’t really start until I was clean and I was connected with drug and alcohol services that were culturally specific programs.”  

Today, he is four years sober. 

“I found people who related to me and my struggles, talked my language, and understood my background,” he said. “That was the biggest pillar, to trust for those who have walked the same walk I have, and enabled them to trust me and support me on my journey. I’m still in therapy and still working on my mental health, because now I understand the services.” 

Roger Garth, a program specialist with the Office of Community Engagement, read the proclamation, which was followed by comments from Board members. 

Commissioner Sharon Meieran thanked the speakers for sharing their experiences and how it ties to the broader work of the community. 

“The disease process itself, unlike many other disease processes, affects your insight and understanding, so that makes it even harder,” said Meieran. “And with substance use, it has changes in brain chemistry. So much is needed to make our system work for those who need it the most.”

Commissioner Lori Stegmann emphasized the importance of feeding our minds as healthily as we strive to feed our bodies — pointing to the inner dialogue in our heads and reflecting on how sometimes that voice can be painfully inaccurate.

“For me there’s always this voice in my head that is constantly talking, and it does not stop. It’s not what happens to you, it’s the narrative that’s going on in your head. And when you wake up, most of those stories are inaccurate and not true and not helpful.” 

Chair Vega Pederson thanked employees at Multnomah County who step in and do this work everyday. 

“I really appreciate lifting up the need for culturally specific services, I think that’s absolutely something we’re continuing to work on and really integrate across all the work we do.”

“We need culturally specific services. We need to lift the stigma. We need to be doing this and more.” 

Watch the proclamation here