The staff at Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness sometimes hear from community members that “mental health and addiction issues are everywhere!”

The fact is that mental health and addiction issues are everywhere. Statistically 1 out of 5 people in Wallowa County suffer from a mental health or addiction disorder at any given time. People with such issues are our parents, children, and spouses. They are friends and neighbors, the people we work with, and the people who come into our businesses. Sometimes we are that person.

Mental health and addiction issues can create many kinds of problems for the people who suffer from them. People with addictions or mental health issues may have trouble staying employed. They may struggle with anger, or fear. They may find it difficult to leave the house. They may find it hard to have happy, healthy relationships. Sometimes the problems are so powerful, that people feel driven to get help. Sometimes they just suffer silently, hoping to make it through another day.

Sometimes these conditions are so severe that people begin to wonder, “Why don’t we just lock them up!?” “Why can’t you do something?!”

And yes that is what we used to do. For a long period of time in America, that was what happened to people with mental health and addiction issues. We simply put them away in hospitals and other programs. However this approach did not lead to healing or recovery.

Individuals with mental health and addiction issues are human. They have rights. They deserve to be treated with respect. They did not choose their illness.

Today hospitalization is considered a treatment of last resort. One thing our program, Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness (WVCW) cannot do, is just put a person in the hospital. They must agree with that decision, or one of two criteria must be met. The person has to be an immediate threat to themselves (we believe they are a suicide risk), or be an immediate, physical threat to another. If those criteria are not present, we cannot admit them against their will.

This can be frustrating for those who witness behaviors that are at times distressing and extreme. But a great deal of research has shown that people recover from mental health and addiction issues better if they do it while still a part of the community.

What we can do, as a program, is provide the kind of care at the local level that helps people live as a part of our community. Where they can be with their families and friends. Where they can engage in meaningful work. Where they can have the most freedom possible.

We want the people of Wallowa County to know that we are doing all we can to provide this kind of compassionate, effective care. The fact is that treatment works, and we can help almost every kind of mental health or addiction issue. We can deal with many levels of severity. And we are good at what we do.

We hope, in the coming months, to help you understand more about mental health and addictions issues, and what we can do to help. Keep your eye on the Chieftain.

Next time: the mental health/addiction issues you don’t see.

Our phone is 541-425-4524. Our crisis number is 541-398-1175. Or visit our page on Facebook.

Stephen Kliewer is a licensed professional counselor and part of the leadership team at WVCW.

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