When the teenager looked up, she saw the edge of the cliff.
“I was over the edge of it, barely holding on,” said Heather, speaking metaphorically about her mental illness. She spoke at Southern Oregon Adolescent Study and Treatment Center‘s Celebration of Hope last week.
After two years spent in SOASTC programs, Heather is the youngest board member in the organization’s longer than 30-year history.
‘They saved me in so many different ways,” she said.
‘It’s a lifeline that isn’t really offered anywhere else.”
Filling a gap
Prior to having a Coos County location in 2006, SOASTC served this area with limited services out of Grants Pass, beginning in 1997.
The Coastline Partnership invited the organization to help provide mental health services to area youths after identifying a gap in the services, said Bob Lieberman, SOASTC’s executive director.
Today, SOASTC partners with Coos County Mental Health and others to provide psychiatric day treatment in North Bend Middle School and North Bay Elementary, plus skills training, foster care and Pony Creek, a crisis respite home.
Cheaper, closer to home
The services keep care closer to home and less expensive than comparable services in larger cities.
In its first eight months of operation, Pony Creek saved more than $40,000, said Ginger Swan, Coos County Mental Health’s director.
Pony Creek also minimizes the stigma attached to mental illness, Lieberman said.
At residential respite center, youths are able to see their family and friends, and it’s less traumatizing than being sent away as far as Eugene or Portland, he said.
Experiencing a mental illness makes things difficult at home and on the playground, he said.
Tamara, a parent of two children in day treatment, said that even with support, it’s a struggle.
“This is so hard, being a parent in this situation,” she said.
“Seeing your kids struggle and not knowing how to make it better.”
Parents often feel blamed and guilty for not raising a healthy child, Lieberman said.
“We’re trying to turn that on it’s head,” and involve parents in the care of their children, he said.
Foster parents also fill an important role in services. They undergo an extensive screening and training program, and receive weekly home visits from specialists.
The 24-hour support line is helpful, too, said foster parent Dale Short who, with his wife, provides a home to three girls.
It’s a challenge but also rewarding when he sees how successful children like Heather become.
“It makes me proud. She’s grown a lot.”
Heather said she never expected to be where she is now.
“It’s amazing,” she said. ‘There’s really no words to describe how I feel.”
If cooperation to make services available can happen in a small community like Coos County, it can happen anywhere, Lieberman said.
When Swan began work at Coos County Mental Health about 20 years ago, children services were almost nonexistent, but have grown over the years.
“In my mind, it’s a much friendlier, I think, a much more compassionate attitude,” she said.
If children are treated early in life, they stand a much better chance of becoming healthy, contributing members of society, she said.
That attitude has helped make expanded services possible for children who Lieberman said ‘do well if they can.”
‘We just don’t believe in giving up on a youth.”