Mental Health Crisis Line to be Posted on Billboards

From The Lund Report, August 31, 2011

The hope is that more people will opt to use the crisis line, rather than calling 911

Multnomah County expects to post its mental health crisis telephone number on 15 billboards by mid-September.

The number, 503-988-4888, will remain on billboards for a month. The intent, said Jason Renaud, secretary of the Mental Health Association of Portland, is to decrease the number of 911 calls that involve mental health crises.

Calling 911, he said, often gets the police involved, who are inadequately trained and unable to deal with people suffering from extreme mental illnesses. Renaud pointed to the 2003 fatal beating of James Chasse, a mentally ill man, and the 2010 shooting deaths of Aaron Campbell and Keaton Otis, both 25-year old African Americans who suffered from mental illnesses.

“There are options other than 911,” said Renaud, who described the crisis line as being “very good for sorting out issues” related to mental health crisis.

A 24-hour hotline, it provides crisis counseling, mobile outreach, service referrals, assistance finding mental health providers and non-crisis oriented community resources. People could be diverted from going to jail or the emergency room, which in turn saves money.

The Mental Health Association of Portland approached Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen’s office several months ago to find ways to inform people about the crisis line. “We asked them to take the lead,” Renaud said. “[Mental health] is their purview.”

Cogen’s office quickly contacted Clear Channel, the billboard’s owner, and purchased a month’s time for $6,000.

Dave Austin, Multnomah County’s public affairs director, didn’t return a call for comment, but his voicemail indicated the billboards will be readied by September 19.

Renaud hopes the crisis line will track the frequency of call volume when the billboards are running which could help secure permanent funding.

“It’d be interesting to keep this sort of public information up and running. It’s good for the police and the community,” Renaud said. “It’s good money spent.”