Evening with the Experts

Evening with the Experts for Summer 2018 has concluded. Thank you for your interest in this program! You can read more about our presentations below. Stay tuned for future presentations with NAMI Multnomah!


Evening with the Experts brings in speakers from the community who are experts in various topics related to mental illness. The aim of this program is to increase public awareness about mental health conditions by hosting community forums on various issues in the mental health community and open discussions on how to facilitate change and break the stigma around mental illness.

These events are open to the public, and free to attend!

Summer 2018 Evening with the Experts Presentations

  • Past Panel: Self-Advocacy in Interacting with Law Enforcement
    Reflections              The third and final Evening with the Experts of this summer, which took place on Tuesday, August 14th, had the highest attendance yet. The topic was Self-Advocacy in Interacting with Law Enforcement, which brought three panelists: a law enforcement deputy, a peer mental health advocate who has experience interacting with law enforcement, and a family support specialist who has experience interacting with law enforcement because of her child’s mental health condition, and who advises other families on doing the same. These perspectives complemented each other well and, taken together, built a nuanced story about interactions between those in mental health crisis and law enforcement.The most resounding piece of advice from the panelists for those on either side of this sort of interaction was just to slow down and open a channel of honest communication between parties. All panelists acknowledged that it can seem especially difficult to take a pause to evaluate in the midst of a crisis, but being conscious of and communicative about exactly what is going on—from all perspectives—was a high priority for all panelists. A good evaluation would account for (at the very least) the material situation, the state of mind of the person in crisis, whether there are any weapons or immediate danger involved, whether the person in crisis has been in a similar situation before (and if so, what happened), and what the person’s triggers or comforts might be. Once the person in crisis or their family/support member has these things figured out, they are encouraged to communicate with complete honesty to law enforcement. If a family member or support person helps someone who is routinely in crisis, they might have a 911 phone call script for efficiency and accuracy. When calling the police, requesting a CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) trained officer is also a good idea. Panelists noted that interactions involving force often stem from a miscommunication, and all felt that open, honest communication can help avoid these miscommunications.

    In that vein, panelists suggested that law enforcement make a conscious effort to shift out of their usual instant-problem-solving mode and into a mindset of humanizing communication. If they do not have a lot of information, they might start by simply asking, “What’s your name? How are you doing? What’s going on?” and gathering as much information as possible from there. Asking these questions can provide insight to the situation, and in addition, panelists have found that those in crisis often find eye contact and acknowledgement significantly restorative. This can be counterintuitive for law enforcement—the deputy panelist explained that it is often law enforcement’s instinct to solve a problem as quickly as possible—but that’s usually not what works best with mental health crisis. Indeed, a panelist remembered how it felt to be yelled at and commanded by police when she was in crisis: instead of following their orders, she was triggered, and felt flooded with reminders of trauma she had experienced earlier in life. This led her to continue to act violently. She believes if the officers had approached her calmly, she would have calmed down as well. Panelists felt that interacting as a human with a will to help is perhaps the most significant thing a law enforcement officer can do. The deputy reiterated this position, saying that the last thing he wants to do when dealing with a mental health crisis is to take someone to jail.

    Panelists cited existing stigma as a main reason why law enforcement mental health crisis interactions can go south. They stated that the assumption that those in crisis are “just crazy people” can make law enforcement hesitant to spend time dealing with them. Likewise, the assumption that law enforcement is hostile or even violent can discourage those in crisis from wanting to involve them in the situation. Panelists placed much of the blame for these perceptions on media of all forms (both entertainment and news) and said it needs to take a more responsible position in depictions of those in crisis, of law enforcement, and of interactions between the two. When asked what individuals or organizations can do to help break down stigma between the groups and to help interactions go smoothly, the panelists said they believed more events like this one, where law enforcement, peers, support people, and community members engage as equals in open conversation, would make a great positive difference to the future of these interactions.

  • Past Panel: Veteran-Specific Mental Health Services
    Reflections              On July 19th, NAMI Multnomah held an Evening with the Experts panel discussion on Veteran-specific mental health services. The panel featured a variety of perspectives: many of the speakers were Veterans themselves, while others were family members of Veterans, and some were involved in Veteran support or healthcare organizations. Many fell into multiple categories.The panelists spoke to the differences between Veteran and civilian mental health. They noted that many Veterans’ mental health challenges and their reactions to those challenges stem from being immersed in a military culture. Military culture, many explained, changes not only a person’s behavior but their mental processes on a near-constant level. It is difficult for civilians to grasp this ingrained way of thinking and therefore to completely understand the mental health struggle a Vet might be going through, so communication can be a barrier to effective treatment. Because of this divide, it is often comforting for a Vet to receive mental healthcare from a practitioner who is very familiar with Veterans’ mental health. Dealing with chronic pain, having to return to a family from which one has been absent, and recovering from moral injury (the phenomenon in which an active duty service member must violate their own moral code) were all listed as Veteran-specific mental health challenges. Finally, many panelists emphasized that the invisibility of being—and struggling as—a Veteran is a difficult challenge.As with any category of healthcare, there are successes and failures in Veteran mental healthcare. Panelists seemed to agree that on the whole, Portland is very lucky to have its VA—perhaps its most-lauded attribute is that it skillfully provides comprehensive physical and mental healthcare in one location. On the other hand, some panelists have found culturally-specific treatment and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and equine psychotherapy, to be especially effective. While many treatment options exist, panelists find that some services are still missing. Portland does without specific programs, such as Military Sexual Trauma treatment or an inpatient PTSD unit. Some existing services, such as medication management and emergency care, are not adequately but not maximally effective. Though the VA provides a lot, it could not possibly provide everything—and patients and their families would prefer to have more varied options in their community for quality Vet mental healthcare. If the panelists were united on one message, it was that Veteran-specific mental healthcare is extremely important and must be individualized for the highest quality—and, thankfully, that most providers are well-intentioned, and that things seem to be moving in the right direction.
  • Past Panel: Houselessness and Mental Health

    On June 28th, NAMI Multnomah held an Evening with the Experts panel discussion on houselessness and mental health. The panel featured a variety of perspectives: some of the speakers had professional or volunteer experience advocating for causes related to mental health and houselessness (see links listed below), while others had experience living with mental health conditions and being houseless—many fell into multiple categories.

    Panelists answered a couple of key questions. The first was: What do you see being the greatest barrier facing those living with mental health conditions who are also unhoused? This question generated a variety of responses, ranging from plain stigma to a mutual lack of trust between those giving and receiving services for mental health and homeless communities. One panelist noted that houseless patients who seek mental health crisis care are often assumed to be faking illness in order to secure a bed for the night, while another stated that those who most need services often refuse them for various reasons. Another panelist cited the legislative process as the biggest difficulty, explaining that political representation and legislation change too rapidly to be able to effectively aid a group of people. Each of these is a formidable barrier.
    The second question was: Where do you see the largest need for change, and what sorts of solutions do you envision being effective? One panelist raised the difficulty of following up on employment opportunities without a phone number, and suggested a phone-sharing program to mitigate this problem. Another urged the use of more sympathetic language in policy. Many others saw various service deficits, from poor accessibility to a lack of follow-up care. Finally, a panelist suggested that perhaps we would all be a bit kinder if we remembered that people go through many of the same struggles indoors that they do out of doors; that is, we are all human, and therefore we are all vulnerable—but we can also be loving.

To explore the organizations represented on the panel, check out these links:

Bailey’s Bones and Wishes

Because People Matter

A Home for Everyone

NorthStar Clubhouse

Operation Nightwatch



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