Editor's note: This article is part of “Breaking the Silence: Shining a Light on Oregon’s Suicide Crisis,” which is a statewide project that emphasizes suicide prevention and awareness in the week of April 7-14. Click here for a list of resources for anyone who may be in crisis.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II at a pretty young age, and in some ways, the ebbs and flows of my mood is all I’ve ever known. I’m lucky that I come from a long line of mental health nurses, social workers and caretakers who sought treatment for me as soon as they could. Mental illness and caring for people with mental illness runs in my family the way height runs in others. But when I moved from Minnesota to attend college in Eugene, I began to understand my relationship with my mental illnesses differently.
I grew up with the same psychiatrist (one my mom, a psychiatric nurse practitioner herself, had found for me) from the age of three until 18. When I got to Oregon, I hadn’t had a major depressive episode in years and generally was in remission. My freshman year, I thought I could maybe take a more lax approach to managing my mental health and find a psychiatrist and therapist pretty easily when I needed them — but when my mental health deteriorated my sophomore year after my favorite professor passed away, finding care, specifically in Eugene, was a lot harder than I thought.
My first stop on my journey to take care of myself during my sophomore year was to visit the University of Oregon’s Counseling Center. When I went in to meet with a social worker, she found out that I had a previous, long-term diagnosis and informed me that my best option would be to connect with a therapist in the community rather than see someone through the school. The school’s social worker and I sat down, talked about what I was looking for in a therapist, asked my insurance what providers were covered and she sent me off to contact therapists. I found one who was the right fit on the first try, but as those who have been in therapy know, it might take a few tries. Often, the counseling center will refer students who need long-term treatment to outside resources.
But as I was interning in Portland during the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I faced another short and severe depressive episode brought on by a medication used for an allergic reaction. I knew I needed more acute care and to get my meds adjusted, but I still didn’t have a psychiatrist in Oregon. I ended up spending one night at Portland’s Unity Center for Behavioral Health, a mental health care facility managed by all the major hospitals in Portland that has had its own issues with patient treatment, where they adjusted my medications a bit and referred to a long-term group therapy program called Portland DBT Institute. I’ve been incredibly privileged to be able to spend part of my time in Portland this year to manage my mental health (and a chronic physical illness) while still in school in Eugene — but most students may not have the option, resources, money or time to pursue things the way I have. Factor in Oregon’s significant lack of access to care as as a state and the fact that some mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder have age-of-onsets in young adults.
I am only one Oregon student who has struggled with mental health issues, but my story is not unique. According to the nonprofit Lines for Life, Oregon’s suicide rates have sat at a higher rate than the national average for the last three decades. From an individual standpoint, the statistics seem insurmountable. But then I remember the great treatment that I have found in this state and the work non-profits and communities are doing to make mental health care more widely available. I wish more people my age knew about how to get mental health care outside of our cash strapped university counseling centers.
Here are some ways to make finding care feel less like climbing a mountain without oxygen. I can’t guarantee that this will get you to a therapist or psychiatrist faster, but it will make the process smoother.
Lean on your school’s health center to help you find care initially
Finding a therapist or psychiatrist or other forms of treatment can be daunting and frankly exhausting, especially when you’re feeling depressed. But there are ways to make the process easier for yourself. If you’re in school, the first helpful step would be to check with your school’s health center to see what their policies are. They have their own resources and are usually connected with the community to refer you out if need be.
When I realized I needed therapy, I went to the Counseling Center at school first. Even though they couldn’t see me there, they had a social worker who helped with the grunt work of finding a therapist. She called my insurance with me in the room and gave me the cards of a few therapists who seemed like they would be good fits. She even followed up with me about how meeting with therapists was going. As a student with so many deadlines, it was helpful to have that work broken down a bit for me. I also followed through because I had the support of a social worker, someone besides a friend or family member looking out for me. Below are a list of numbers for counseling centers at Oregon universities. Some even offer walk-in consultations.
University of Oregon:
Southern Oregon University:
Student Health & Wellness Center Counseling Services
Oregon State University:
Special notes: OSU Counseling and Psychological Services has walk-in consultations and crisis support for students during their hours Mon-Fri 9am to 4pm.
Portland State University:
Center for Student Health and Counseling
Special notes: Walk in consultations during these hours.
Monday: 9am - 12pm & 1pm - 3pm
Tuesday: 9am - 12pm & 1pm - 3pm
Wednesday: 9am - 12pm & 1pm - 3pm
Thursday: 1pm - 3pm
Friday: 10am - 12pm & 1pm - 3pm
2. ) Keep notes and advocate for yourself
One of the best ways to get the most out of limited appointments is to have an idea of what you want to talk about coming in to a therapy or psychiatry session. For instance, my psychiatric nurse practitioner and I wanted to change my anxiety meds around a bit recently. I came in with a list of meds that my mom and I had researched and then discussed them with my nurse. She then told me which meds would be feasible for my symptoms and how they would work. Know your symptoms and keep a diary of what you’re feeling. That way, when you get to an appointment and are overwhelmed, you have something to fall back on. Even just a simple recognition of how many times you felt anxious in a day gives both you and your practitioner a way forward.
3.) Know what you think will help you and be open to trying new forms of therapy
There are so many different types of therapy out there and they all have their benefits and drawbacks. Dialectical behavioral therapy; cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness based cognitive behavioral therapy are all types of therapy that help cope with numerous mental health issues like depression, bipolar and general anxiety disorder. Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing is a type of talk therapy specifically used in coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. Talk therapies aren’t the only option, though. There’s art therapy, play therapy — the list goes on. I have found that seeing an acupuncturist has had a therapeutic benefit for me in addition to my DBT group and therapy sessions that I attend. I never would have been into acupuncture in the past but that therapy and the right meds have helped me survive periods of high stress. I now look forward to it.
4. ) Get yourself on waiting lists if possible
With a resource-strapped state like Oregon, some psychiatrists, therapists or group therapy programs like DBT will have wait lists. If you can, get yourself on them. Even if you can’t get care until then, sometimes knowing that you have something lined up is helpful and comforting in its own right. I know that when I was on the waitlist for a program at Portland DBT Institute waiting for a call from them kept me going. And often, if you’re on a waitlist, scheduling offices will consider you for an appointment if someone else cancels. Sometimes having that motivation, knowing different things are on the horizon is helpful in its own right.
Struggling with mental health is one of the hardest things I have done in my college career. Classes seem easy in comparison. But this year I am thankful for every appointment I have and resource I have found or stumbled upon. I know finding care can be hard as a young person, but this list should help break it down into an easier, less daunting process.