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Cultivating Compassion in the Gorge

Updated: Mar 12, 2020

Re-framing the way we think about mental health

When people in our lives are experiencing a mental health challenge, oftentimes we may not know about it. If we’re the one dealing with a mental health condition, it can be very, very hard to talk about how we suffer.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 19% of adults around the country experienced mental illness in 2018. In the Gorge, 1 in 3 adults have a mental health condition, and for youth, the number is not much lower. Yet, stigma around mental health and substance use often prevents people from accessing necessary care and resources. Often silence accompanies stigma, which means individuals can feel very isolated and alone in their experiences.

Back in 2017, One Community Health, the local federally qualified health center in Hood River and The Dalles, brought together community partners for a specific purpose: to talk about how to reduce stigma around mental health and substance use. This group eventually became the Gorge Wellness Alliance (GWA). One and a half years later, the GWA launched its first campaign, “Cultivate: Compassion”, which is aimed at youth and families.

GWA Project Manager Colleen Regalbuto hosted focus groups in the community in order to inform the “Cultivate: Compassion” campaign. She found that people wanted to see real stories about real people, not stories that tied up neatly at the end.

“A challenge with mental health and substance use is that it can feel so isolating, people can feel so alone,” said Colleen. “It can be helpful to know that’s not the case, it’s very common, and there are ways through it. That was the goal behind telling stories of local people, to help people feel inspired for themselves and their families and friends.”

In October of 2019, with funding from One Community Health and Skamania County Community Health, GWA partnered with CoenFilm to release a mini-documentary that shares the touching stories of six local community members and the challenges they face around mental health. The film premiered on October 6, 2019 at the Columbia Center for the Arts.

One of the featured community members in the “Cultivate: Compassion” documentary is Shannon O’Brien, Behavioral Health Case Manager at One Community Health. Shannon was diagnosed with ADHD in second grade and has found a helpful and healing practice in yoga.

Shannon O'Brien at the Cultivate: Compassion premiere event at the Columbia Center for the Arts on October 6, 2019. Photo Credit: Blaine Franger (

“I felt that through my yoga journey I’ve been able to find this expansion of inner peace, or inner relaxation, in a natural way that is created by my mind and my body without having support from other things like medication.”

Now Shannon is passionate about sharing yoga with others. She teaches in her role at One Community Health and at the local juvenile detention center. She also helps with a yoga teacher training program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, OR, where incarcerated women can become certified yoga teachers.

Shannon wanted to be part of the “Cultivate: Compassion” film to help youth who might be suffering or feeling alone. She also wanted to use her story to start talking about mental health in a similar way to physical health; in essence, to normalize the conversation about mental health.

“When you live with a diagnosis, it’s more about living with it and coping and finding strategies that work… rather than letting that identity define you or fixing it as a pathology,” said Shannon. “As we move more toward that framework, we’ll get to a place where people will feel more acceptance and feel more grace for themselves.”

The GWA is now hosting a second round of focus groups to assess the impact of the film and to determine its next steps.

Community members featured in the Cultivate: Compassion film speak at the premiere event. Photo credit: Blaine Franger (

Want to be part of the conversation? Check out the “Cultivate: Compassion” mini-documentary and follow the Gorge Wellness Alliance on Facebook.

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