Oregon Ranks Worst in Nation for Prevalence of Mental Illness

That’s according to a report released last week by Mental Health America.

COLD COMFORT: Massage chairs at Lloyd Center. (Abby Gordon)

For the past nine years, a Virginia nonprofit has used nationwide survey data to measure the prevalence of mental illness and access to care in every state.

And for the past nine years, Oregon has done abysmally. It has ranked in the bottom three most of those years.

In what should come as no surprise to visitors of downtown Portland—where tents, trash and sirens have become the hallmarks of a crisis of untreated mental illness—this year is no different. In a report released last week, Mental Health America ranked Oregon nearly dead last, ahead of only Kansas.

While Oregon’s access to mental health care is middling, it stands out for how many people need help. Oregon ranks worst for “prevalence of mental illness,” according to the report. The ranking is based on self-reported rates of mental illness, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.

In Oregon, 27% of adults report suffering from mental illness. That’s 6 percentage points higher than the national average.

“That is the biggest reason that Oregon’s at the bottom,” says Jillian Hughes, a spokeswoman for Mental Health America.

Yet the situation looks even worse for kids. One out of every five Oregon youth have experienced a “major depressive episode” in the past year. That’s the highest rate in the nation.

The report relies on data collected in 2020, prior to over a billion dollars in new investment in Oregon’s mental health care system. And because of changes to the survey methodology resulting from the pandemic, the statistics in the report are not comparable to prior years’. Still, the state’s dismal ranking illustrates just how far it has to go to climb out of a crisis of its own making.

Policymakers have underinvested in mental health care in Oregon for decades. Now, there are so few available beds for people experiencing mental health crisis that the Oregon State Hospital is expelling patients back to jails—and, eventually, the streets.

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