This week’s speaker for the Advocate’s CitySpeak series was Jana Svoboda, who shared some insights gained throughout her 35-plus year career as a mental health professional. The topics of the evening included the state of mental health in Oregon, which Mental Health America ranks 49th nationally in overall mental health, the state of care in our community, and options for self care.
According to Svoboda, people are sicker than they used to be, which she attributed partially to living in a society that doesn’t know how to support people with mental illness anymore and defines people by their limitations rather than their strengths. She also cited lack of and disturbed sleep, disruptions to our attention, a more sedentary lifestyle, stimulation overload, and a lack of community and the social support that comes from it. She accentuated that last one, explaining the indispensable value of the listener to the sufferer. “People need a witness in their life,” said Svoboda.
Svoboda gave her take on the deficiencies of our local and regional mental health care system, and spoke about how our for-profit health care model is leaving people behind, creating barriers to treatment. She touched on the county’s role as a mental health crisis gatekeeper, something she spoke to us about in our recent story, Impatient Program Cuts at Sam Health. She also spoke about her experiences with insurance companies, saying that they seemed much more willing to pay for physical health care costs than ones for mental health, due to our long-held stigmas surrounding mental illness. She also talked about the difficulties that some have in finding an area practitioners that accept certain kinds of insurance, citing a lack of Kaiser practitioners in Corvallis. Svoboda said that the continuum of care has been shattered, and all of the required steps to recovery aren’t always available to those requiring care.
Svoboda also fielded questions from some of the 40 or so people in attendance. Many questions revolved around the general lack of availability of mental health care in Corvallis, and more than one inquisitor expressed exasperation with the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country in the world that does not guarantee health care to its citizens.
One man stood up and detailed his own experiences with an area hospital when he was seeking immediate crisis care. “I felt like I was in prison,” he said. “After five hours, I left.”
The news wasn’t all good, but Svoboda came armed with solutions to combat a grim assessment of our current state of mental health. She handed out her “Tool Box for Dealing with Stress and Anxiety,” containing several tips to prevent a negative mental state.
Above all, Svoboda emphasized that mental health difficulties are a part of life, rather than an embarrassment. Some people have a bad knee, and some have depression; both require treatment and neither should be trivialized. Mental health is health.
-By Jay Sharpe