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East County professionals encourage communities to see mental health as a 'we' issue

In the aftermath of the shootings at Clackamas Town Center and Sandy Hook Elementary School last month and at Taft High School this week, national conversation has surged about gun control and access to mental health resources.

Shauna Signorini, director of Involve Families, a children's mental health training and consulting business based in Troutdale, urges communities to provide support for families coping with mental illness and see it as a “we” issue.

“Get support, get education and get advocacy,” Signorini said. “It starts with a community helping those who are in need and a lot of people caring, networking and collaborating.”

After a young member of her family experienced severe mental health issues, Signorini wanted to help other families in her situation. Today, she leads professional development courses for professionals working with kids who have mental health issues; consults with mental health, family engagement and trauma organizations; and leads workshops for parents.

Signorini describes how mental health issues are often dealt with when they reach a crisis point. She and other Multnomah County mental health professionals advocate for helping kids early on with social, emotional and behavioral issues, and challenge communities to be a part of the solution.

“Our experience was so difficult,” Signorini said. “I felt like we were in a maze blindfolded, and for every 100 phone calls we made, five were relevant and two were appropriate to us. When you have a family member in crisis, it’s so hard to reach out and experience a system so hard to navigate. Training gave me hope, and I wanted to offer hope to other families.”

To become better educated about mental illness and learn how to navigate the children’s mental health system, Signorini recommends East County families take community classes and workshops and use resources offered through not only Involve Families, but FACT Oregon, National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Swindells Resource Center.

Even without exact diagnoses and initial mental health appointments, books such as Ross Greene’s “The Explosive Child” can offer a starting point for families to cope, she said.

At Swindells Resource Center at Providence, there are 5,000 books, with a significant section devoted to mental and behavioral health. The library is available to anybody, and it will mail books to families in rural areas.

Jody Wright, center director, said Swindells offers a care notebook, or organizer for families to keep track of medical care, specialists they’ve worked with and other information in one organized spot.

“Call us, connect with us,” Wright said. “The word I hear over and over again is ‘isolated,’ that 'other people don’t understand.' I tell families to do whatever they need, whether it’s a support group or self-education.”

Wright encourages family and friends of those coping with mental illness to take judgment off the table and not assume they understand what the families are going through.

She said it’s best to assume everyone is doing the best they can under their circumstances and that their intentions are good. She also encourages families to explore Family to Family Health Information Center and Oregon Family Support Network.

Signorini said there are rarely simple answers for families, and the best support they can receive is unconditional love and help.

“Be persistent and don’t give up,” Signorini said. “It will take time, and you will have ups and downs, but practice good self-care. If you deplete everything you have, you have two people who can be in crisis.”

Signorini said yoga in particular was a wonderful practice for children experiencing mental health issues.

Jennie Ehleringer of Yoga for All offers yoga classes for students with mental health struggles and behavioral disabilities.

“Yoga releases all these little emotions,” Ehleringer said. “It’s a very gentle way of releasing stagnant worries and stresses that get stuck in the body. Yoga is something kids can access at any point in life. Whether you go to Holland or Africa, yoga is yoga. It’s a player on their life journey of taking care of themselves.”

Ehleringer and Signorini agreed mental health services could take time to access, but they encourage families and communities to be persistent and not let conversations about mental health resources drop.

“Above all, stay involved, keep talking and keep doing,” Signorini said.


• FACT Oregon — factoregon.org

• Family to Family Health Information Center — oregonfamilytofamily.org

• Involve Families — involvefamilies.com

• NAMI — nami.org

• Oregon Family Support Network — ofsn.org

• Swindells Resource Center of Providence — oregon.providence.org

• Think Kids of Oregon Health & Sciences University — ohsu.edu/ thinkkkids.org

• “The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene

Ways to help famliies coping with mental illness

• Offer childcare for other children during appointments

• Provide transportation to or from appointments

• Volunteer for respite or childcare to give a parent or parents time alone

• Write a card to show you care

Coming events through Involve Families, involvefamilies.com

Whole Child Healthy Child — 9:30-11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, 24375 S.E. Stark St. Learn about the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects for a child's wellness. Pregistration is required at eventbrite.com/org/2946982479. Cost is $30.

Partner with Youth and Families, a workshop on how to work with people with mental health issues, will be held at a later date in January. Cost is $75.

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