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National Mental Health Awareness Month strives to change the stigma of mental illness

Mental illness is becoming a crisis in the United States.

Research suggests that one in five people struggles with mental illness.

Since May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, local mental health providers want to change the way people think about mental illness and let Crook County residents know they have access to a multitude of mental health services.

"Mental Health Awareness Month is a national movement to celebrate breaking down stigma, breaking down barriers to receiving mental health services," explained Crook County Mental Health Director Laura Placek of Lutheran Community Services Northwest. "It's recognizing the value in and the validity in treating the whole person, and part of a person's whole health is not only their physical well-being, but it's their mental and emotional health."

As the Crook County mental health provider, Lutheran Community Services Northwest provides counseling and intellectual/developmental disabilities advocacy services for children, youth, adults and families.

Located at the site of the former Pioneer Memorial Hospital, LCSNW accepts insurance, the Oregon Health Plan, Medicare and has a sliding-fee scale.

"Funding services should not be a barrier to receiving services," Placek said. "We strive to work with every individual coming through so that they can get the services that really do help increase the vitality and the health and wellness in their lives."

Even though the organization has been in Crook County since 1984, Placek said not everyone is aware of all of the services they offer.

Placek and her team decided to help bring awareness to their services during Mental Health Awareness Month.

"This affects a lot of people, and there's no shame in seeking out and receiving support," she said of mental illness.

Among other services, LCSNW Prineville offers alcohol and drug counseling, adult outpatient counseling, and services for intellectual and delayed patients, a resource center, and gambling counseling.

They're also launching some new programs to coincide with the month-long awareness campaign.

They have partnered with the Central Oregon Health Council to expand services to the 55-plus population.

Placek pointed out that Crook County is home to a higher-than-average population of retirees and yet LCSNW did not have many mental health or behavior health services for that age group.

They now have a licensed clinical social worker providing services in conjunction with the Central Oregon Health Council to target that population.

Additionally, a LCSNW clinician recently gained certification and will lead an eight-week grief group counseling session beginning May 20.

"That was an identified need, so what a better month to start that new group but this month," Placek said. "It's definitely a service that's really not prevalent in a lot of agencies, and there's not a lot of clinicians that are trained in providing grief counseling."

LCSNW has been selected by the Hunter Holmes Memorial Foundation as the recipient for their Golf Tournament on May 18.

Hunter Holmes was a 16-year-old Redmond High School student who took his own life on Dec. 14, 2017. He played basketball, soccer and golf. His parents started the Hunter Holmes Memorial Fund in his memory.

The nonprofit directs all funds to help finance, educate, counsel, train and support local kids, their families and their school in Central Oregon on suicide and the effects concussions have in youth sports.

"Suicide affects an entire family, it affects communities, and, unfortunately in Oregon, that is the second-leading cause of death for kiddos and young people age 15 to 34. That's a powerful number," Placek said.

The Second Annual Hunter Holmes Memorial Golf Tournament happens Saturday, May 18 at Meadow Lakes Golf Course. Proceeds will go toward supporting the Crook County School District's mental health services through LCSNW and will aid in sustaining their services in Crook County.

"Their generosity is going to help us be able to make sure that we are having our clinicians working in tandem with the schools and to make sure we are developing programmatic kinds of things that speak to the needs of kids," Placek said, noting that it will help fund the Youth in Transition Center at LCSNW. "Their generosity is going to help uplift our child, youth and family program."

She said LCSNW is honored to be a part of this memorial for Hunter.

"It is with sincerity and humility that we pledge our dedication to education, prevention and counseling services for youth and adults," Placek said. "We are honored for this gift and proud to support the mission and message of the Holmes family and the memory of Hunter."

On Wednesday, May 22, LCSNW will host their first-ever fundraising luncheon, A Life Changing Lunch, for their community partners.

"The whole agenda is to really lift up and talk about mental health and mental health awareness and programing that's going on in Lutheran for Crook County residents," Placek explained. "We'll talk about services that are needed in a community and are driven by community desire, need and identification."

She pointed out that although the luncheon is private, they are always open to receiving charitable contributions for programing in Crook County.

Funds raised during A Life Changing Lunch will help sustain programs and expand access to LCSNW services.

"Our need right now is expanding access to services in our intake and engagement," Placek said.

She pointed out that oftentimes people need immediate mental health and behavior health services but are unable to get scheduled in a timely manner.

"If I'm a client, when I walk in the door, they tell me it's going to be three to six months until I can see someone to help me with that problem, I think that's unreasonable, and I don't think that that's OK in our society and in a community," Placek said. "Lutheran has been really intentional in the last six to nine months of breaking down that kind of an encounter for clients."

She noted that LCSNW served more than 1,200 Crook County residents in 2018, and they are on track to serve even more this year.

"Our programs are dictated by community need and social determinants," Placek said. "The fact that we had 1,200 people be able to walk through the door having some kind of a need related to mental health and then have us be able to provide that service locally, part of our unsung mission is getting the services needed to the people who need them."

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