By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Mental health concerns grow during outbreak

Graphic by Amber McAlary
Graphic by Amber McAlary

McMinnville police are feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the frantic calls from people worrying, unable to sleep, unable to eat and struggling to cope.

“These are uncertain times,” Chief Matt Scales said. “You’ve got different stressors on families in the community that we have not dealt with in the past.”

Officers answered 38 suicide-related calls in March, compared to 21 in February, an 81 percent increase, Scales said. They responded to 17 mental health calls, nearly double the number from February.

Drug and overdose-related calls have been on the rise, too, according to Tim Heidt, a veteran officer who contacts some of the city’s troubled residents.

“We have had some calls for service of subjects obsessing, not sleeping or eating for days that would not ‘normally’ act in this manner,” Heidt reported.

Police work closely with a Yamhill County crisis outreach specialist. There also is help available from the county’s Health & Human Services department.

“Our crisis services remain fully intact and operational at this point in time, and we will continue to prioritize these services,” said Lindsey Manfrin, the county’s health director. “While our daily operations look different today because of COVID-19, we are still providing much of the same services.”

Suicide prevention resources

*Yamhill County Mental Health crisis line: 844-842-8200

* National suicide hotline (Lifeline): 800-273-8255 for English; 888-628-9454 for Spanish; text “273TALK” to 839863

* Youth suicide hotline: 877-968-8492, text “teen2teen” to 839863

* LGBTQ suicide hotline: 866-488-7386

* Military suicide hotline: 888-457-4838, text “MIL1” to 839863

* Senior loneliness line: 503-200-1633.

Crisis services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Many, but not all, services are offered via telehealth, an online technology network. A non-crisis line to support other types of community needs also will be established, and outreach for the elderly and homeless is ongoing, Manfrin said.

County Commissioner Mary Starrett, who serves as a liaison to various county departments and committees, including Health & Human Services, urged people to consider all the ways in which they can protect loved ones from self-harm.

Suicides have risen in the U.S. in each of the last 15 years, making it the 10th leading cause of death, Starrett said. She’s especially concerned about the relationship between prescribed drugs and suicide.

“I believe we’re missing one important piece to the puzzle as we try to figure out why so many people are choosing to end their lives,” Starrett said.

“For someone already struggling with depression, the added risk is like playing Russian roulette,” she said. “I think we need a collaborative effort across the medical professions, public health and our communities to get that message out.”

Starrett said many commonly used prescription meds are associated with an increased risk of depression.

“In the fight to end suicide we should be including information about the possible serious side effects of some drugs, and while medications have been a life-saver for some people, we can’t ignore the well-documented potential side effects,” Starrett said.

Lines for Life, the Oregon affiliate for the national suicide prevention lifeline, is urging people to stay connected socially during these difficult weeks of isolation.

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“When we talk about social distancing, we’re talking about physical distancing,” said Greg Borders, chief clinical officer for Lines for Life. “Even though we’re all cooped up, this is not the time to stay cooped up socially.

“Pick up the phone and call a loved one or a friend,” Borders said. “If you’re doing well, go through your contacts, and determine who could benefit from a call.”

He urges everyone to reach out by phone, text or video chat to connect with those closest to them.

“If they are struggling, make sure they know how to access help,” he said.

In Portland, Police Chief Jami Resch said calls to 911 for suicide attempts or suicide threats were up 41% in March compared to the same time last year, and 23% compared to the 10 days before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Nationally, there has not been an increase in suicide-related calls at the local levels, Borders said.

“There are more calls in general during the spring,” Borders said. “No one really knows why. There are lots of theories. But this is a time when people seem to and can have more of a need to use a crisis line. We want to be a resource for anyone in distress.”

About 100 staffers and more than 100 adult volunteers make Lines for Life a valuable resource. However, because of the pandemic, volunteer help is not being utilized, Borders said.

“The staff is working from home, remotely,” he said. “They’re feeling good about the fact that even though they are away from work they’re still able to help people in a crisis. They’re still doing a great job.”

Those answering calls to Lines for Life are trained to be sympathetic listeners, he said. They give callers the opportunity to tell their story and share their concerns and fears.

“They spend time talking about resources and things they can do to feel less isolated,” he said. “We come up with a plan for each person and provide follow-up calls.”



I've been impressed with all of the people I've seen out walking and jogging up and down the sidewalks. Movement is medicine, and powerful medicine at that! A brisk thirty minute walk leaves me feeling great for hours afterwards.

E.J. Farrar

I was disturbed by Commissioner Starrett’s comments here. Anyone with a family member struggling with mental health issues knows that getting them to adhere to their treatment plan can be a constant effort. I hope she is prepared to take responsibility for any negative consequences that result from patients following her medical advice instead of their treating physician’s.


I wish Dr. Starrett would specify which prescription drugs she's talking about.


E.J. Farrar



I would worry about the folks receiving needles paid for and delivered with tax payer dollars thanks to the BOC and her mini me (who is running for Commissioner). They approved $ in the Budget Committee a month prior to approving this expense at the formal session. Now that’s depressing.


David S. Wall

For once, it is good to view a collegial discussion containing source material to support the author's subject matter. Good job everyone!

The use of the "BOC" moniker is problematic.

Commissioner Starrett has used the "BOC" moniker before and I do not know if "BOC" is Commissioner Starrett for the purposes of this particular post.

However, absent a Board Order from the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners (BOC) conferring the permission to use "BOC," the flippant use of "BOC" is inappropriate.

The "BOC" moniker gives the impression Commissioner Starrett (if "BOC" is Commissioner Starrett) speaks for the entire Yamhill County Board of Commissioners.

David S. Wall

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