Giovanni Blair McKenzie_Dont touch my hair

By Giovanni Blair McKenzie, PQ Monthly

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis or struggling with thoughts of suicide, first know that you are beautiful, talented, and loved. Your existence makes the world a better place.


Never underestimate the power of talk therapy. If you need someone to talk to, consider calling a crisis hotline. Below are four you should know. They are confidential, toll-free, and available 24/7.

Trevor Project                                1-866-488-7386          LGBTQ Youth

Trans Lifeline                                          1-877-565-8860                   Trans Community

Multnomah County Crisis Line                1-800-716-9769                  Multnomah County Residents

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline       1-800-273-8255                  Anyone living in the US



Personally, I think OHSU is the best hospital for a mental health emergency. When I last visited, I waited for 10 minutes before being seen, compared to two hours at other facilities. After I had settled in, I was greeted by the head of their security team who explained my rights and reasons for their policies. And instead of having one doctor, I had two working together as a team.


The unfortunate fact is, medical facilities are often unprepared to support patients experiencing homelessness. In my experience, the moment you’re identified as homeless, their obligations to treat you with decency and respect goes out the window. When I first visited the Hollywood district Providence hospital, they took good care of me. Two weeks later, I was homeless. The small suitcase I carried was a red flag, causing the EMT and nurses to repeatedly asked if I was homeless. When I was finally honest, their focus shifted from my care to fixing my homelessness, which was not my most urgent need, causing them not to give me the care I needed.


Medical staff are like flight attendants, you never know what you’ll get. I’ve found that by having advocates, you make them more accountable and ensure that someone is advocating for your best interests even when you can’t.

There are two kinds of patient advocates – the external one (someone you know and trust or someone from a victim services organization), and the internal one (someone employed by the hospital). If you can, get both. For an outside advocate, pick someone you trust and have the ER social worker contact them immediately.


If you’re POC (person of color), ask if a POC social worker is available or on-call. When I first visited Providence Portland in the Hollywood district, I was lucky to get a woman of color without having to ask for one. She made sure I had the best care plan possible. If things unfolded differently, I would not be writing this piece today.


If you are insured by Oregon Health Plan—which includes Healthshare of Oregon and  CareOregon—ambulatory care is provided as part of your care package. Another option is Lyft. If you don’t have the funds, use my promo code “ ” for a free first ride!


During a mental health crisis, alcohol is not your friend. In fact, it’s your enemy. Remember, alcohol is a depressant. It slows your brain down. Speaking from experience, drinking during a crisis will only worsen the situation.


Medical staff are trained in translating what you’re saying to medical language, so be honest about what you’re feeling. When I first mentioned having “spiraling thoughts” to the EMT, I didn’t know it was a big deal. In mental health language, this is called ‘racing thoughts.’ And it’s a big deal.


The Multnomah Crisis and Assessment Treatment Center, or CATC for short, is a 16-bed secure facility operated by Telecare, a 50-year old employee-owned organization. At CATC, you won’t find traditional counselors. Instead, you’ll find Peer Support Specialists—counselors who’ve overcome their own mental health and/or addiction struggles and now dedicate their lives to helping others.

During my 24-hour hold at Providence Portland, psychiatrists had me on Zyprexa (an antipsychotic that turns you into a zombie). By the time I got to CATC, the doctor had replaced it with Lexapro (an SSRI) and Concerta (a newer version of the Ritalin, a stimulant known for treating ADHD, narcolepsy, and depression).

At CATC, you never go hungry, and you’re allowed to bring and use your electronic devices. In fact, they suggest it—to enable you to connect with the outside world. Free Wi-Fi is provided, and it’s pretty fast. In their milieu, you’ll find a Wii, endless art supplies, two free payphones, a library of books, a ping-pong table, and gym bikes. One of their group therapy sessions is Buddhism-influenced. In other words, it’s the perfect place to heal.

In closing, your life is valuable—no matter what the voices in your head will say. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. It means you are mature enough to seek help when you need it.

are you sure you want to publish this? is there a limit to the # of times it can be used?

Oh. There’s no limit. Plus, they pay every time someone uses it.