Mind Matters: It’s Long Past Time for Congress to Take a Mental Health Day

Whether it’s at a town hall meeting, in a grocery store, or at one of my Listening to the Future sessions at high schools around the state, I hear all too often about young Oregonians dealing with serious mental health challenges.

Oregon communities large and small are struggling to provide crucial mental health resources for adults, but for our state’s young people, the situation is especially dire. The past two years – with the threat to physical health, long stretches of isolation and upending of school schedules – have amplified this concern into a five-alarm cry for help from a struggling generation. Tragically, one young Oregonian shared that in his school, 80 percent of referrals for mental health care go nowhere. In schools, teachers already stretched during the pandemic to meet the educational benchmarks their students need to succeed are also called on to provide critical mental health support that students cannot get elsewhere. 

I understand many young Oregonians feel like mice trapped in a maze trying to get resources to cope and address their mental health needs. Our nation’s mental health system has complex problems, but I have often said that change doesn’t come from the top-down but from the grassroots up. It starts with engaged Oregonians thinking for the global good and then acting locally. 

One of these Oregonians is Trace Terrell, a senior at La Pine High School who has been spending his free time for the last few years providing peer-to-peer crisis response at the YouthLine. Trace and I met in Bend, and his insight about youth mental health was so valuable that last month he testified before the Senate Finance Committee in a hearing about youth mental health, along with some of our country’s leading doctors. Trace’s insights will provide critical direction as the Senate works to address youth mental health needs nationwide. 

As Chairman of the Finance Committee, I have started an inclusive process to draft comprehensive legislation to make sure people get mental health care when they need it. And progress is already being made: I have been proud to secure $1 billion in Medicaid funding for mobile crisis services, to build on the incredible work being done with CAHOOTS in Eugene at White Bird Clinic. And most recently, I was gratified to help secure $433,000 for Oregon’s YouthLine to help young people facing mental health crises. This federal investment in youth mental health will help communities that need culturally specific support in places like Northeast Portland and Warm Springs in Central Oregon. But all of this is just the beginning.

Here’s the bottom line: every young person should have mental health care when they need it. And I am committed to making continued and substantive progress toward this goal in the halls of the Senate and beyond.