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Peer Support Helps Reduce Stigma of Mental-Health Care

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and there are many stressors for people right now, from the pandemic to the economy.

There is a high prevalence of mental illness in Oregon compared with other states, and organizations are figuring out different ways to reach people who may be struggling.

Adrienne Scavera, training and outreach director for the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon (MHAAO), said her organization has people with lived experiences to provide peer-support services, which she believes is a unique way to connect with people.

“The fact that folks can openly share about their previous life experience can really be meaningful when it comes to reducing stigma,” Scavera explained.

Scavera pointed out peer-support services have become more recognized and valued over her time working with the association. An annual study from Mental Health America ranked Oregon in the bottom five this year for factors such as mental-health prevalence and access to care.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare employer and individual, said she has noticed less stigma around conversations around mental health, especially among young people. She said for a long time, mental-health care was siloed from other parts of the health care system.

“Mental health is part of our health,” Randall stated. “It’s a conversation you should be having with your primary-care physician when you go get your annual checkup.”

Scavera noted everyone is dealing with mental-health issues to some degree. She added people should not be judgmental and should keep an open mind, so they can listen and learn from others about their experiences.

“That can really help to challenge the misconceptions that exist about people with lived experience,” Scavera emphasized. “Because at MHAAO, we believe that everyone can recover and that what that looks like is also going to look different from person to person.”

Disclosure: United Healthcare contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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