Supporting Mental Health

In this tip, we partnered with Civic Life’s Mental Health Specialist, Tyesha McCool-Riley, to explore how to move through difficult feelings and thoughts towards greater well-being mentally and emotionally. By embracing our own experiences, we can reduce the stigma surrounding mental distress.

A critical part of disability access, and everyday life

It’s a common misconception to think of “disability issues” as access issues experienced by people with visible, mobility disabilities. And our collective notions of “access,” often narrowly refer to wheelchair access. When we do this, we miss innumerable opportunities for increased access for people with mental health, cognitive, and learning disabilities. And access that benefits each of us, unique people with different life experiences moving through lovely and tough days in this world.

Our mental health specialist role is focused on larger systems change, including making our systems and spaces friendlier to people experiencing mental health disabilities and people experiencing difficult feelings or extra stress. Part of creating more welcoming spaces is increasing our own awareness and having tools to understand and process our own internal experience.

And so today’s tip will focus on ways each of us can identify and respond to unpleasant thoughts and feelings. As we do what we need to do to take care of ourselves, we will be better equipped to support each other.

Difficult emotions are an everyday experience

This photo of a gushing waterfall.
This photo of a gushing waterfall brings to mind nature’s expression of emotion and represents how overwhelming our thoughts and emotions can be at times. Image: Microsoft Office 2010.

If each of us were to reflect on our lives; we would be able to identify numerous occasions of experiencing heightened emotions related to various circumstances. All of our experiences of difficult emotions are universal, yet we experience them in different ways.

Just as we all experience universal emotions, both difficult and pleasant, but cope and manage them differently. This is also true for different tools and strategies we can use based on our individual needs and situations to support our well being.

Our thoughts influence how we feel

In any given circumstance we have thoughts and feelings about it, and behave in a certain way as a result. These thoughts, feelings, and actions all intermingle and effect one another.

This involves a person’s feelings / emotions about a particular situation, person, or object. For example: “I am scared of spiders." 

Our feelings influence how we respond

This involves a person’s belief / knowledge about a particular situation, person, or object. For example: “I believe spiders are dangerous." 

Our actions influence how others feel

This involves the way a particular situation, person, or object influences how we act or behave and how our behavior impacts others. For example: “I will avoid spiders and scream if I see one and when I scream it startles or puts others on high alert." 

SituationThoughts, Emotions, and BehaviorsPotential Impact on OthersAlternative Strategies
You were assigned a new project.I can’t do it (thought); I feel afraid and unequipped; I procrastinate (behavior).Colleagues may be blamed for your lack of production; the team will miss the deadline.

Be aware of the constant thoughts. Consider replacing them with more productive thoughts.

Example:  This may turn out to be a difficult project, but I believe I can handle it.

Past unresolved conflict with a colleague.I do not like that person (thought); I feel angry (emotion); I have angry outburst when I communicate with that person.Other colleagues may feel like they may have to choose sides, which could cause distress.

Be aware of early signs that anger is rising. By learning to identify what physical signs your body gives you that your anger is rising.

Example: I can tell me anger is rising when my cheeks get warm and I clench my teeth.

A community member yells at you on the phone.I don’t understand why they're mad at me (thought); I feel powerless/ I feel anxious; I raise my voice to try to get my point across.The person’s behavior on the telephone may escalate.

Acknowledge the thought.

Plan ahead: what can you do next time this happens?

Talk to someone you trust a work for support.

Example: Next time an aggressive person calls, I will help to the best of my ability; remember to take deep breaths; and force myself to remain calm.

Coping strategies we can use to thrive at work

How to free up your mindspace!

Mindfulness at work

Reframing at work

Coping strategies refer to the specific tools, practices, and efforts including  behavioral and psychological, that people employ to master, tolerate, reduce, or minimize the effects of stressful thought or events. Coping strategies help facilitate a person's ability to handle a stressful experience in an effort to prevent the development of intense distress of even crises.

Listed below are some resources, strategies, and practical tools to assist you in moments of stress to help you feel calmer, more motivated, more focused, able to concentrate, and in control.




Self care

Local support and resources

Multnomah County Mental Health Call Center 503-988-4888

This call center is a place where anyone can call, anytime of the day and night, to get mental health support and resources. No one has to be "in a crisis" to call. As they state on their website, they are there to listen. They can offer: 

  • Free, 24/7 mental health support
  • Interpretation services for non-English speakers
  • Referral to low-cost or sliding-scale agencies
  • Help finding mental health providers
  • Information about non-crisis community resources

City EAP benefits 1-800-433-2320, text 503-980-1777

If we work for the City of Portland (or many other organizations), as part of the medical coverage we have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This program also offers 24/7 access to confidential support, including connections to free counseling, financial, and legal services. 

Caution! Oversimplifying Hurts

We want to offer a strong caution around the information we’ve shared today. Tools and strategies to manage distressing thoughts are frequently misused to invalidate the unique experiences of people experiencing mental health disabilities. And none of us want to be part of that, right?

 Let us be clear with each other: using de-stressing strategies or reframing techniques to paint a simplistic picture of what it takes to manage mental health disabilities is inaccurate and harmful. And regardless of disability, offering unasked-for “solutions” to anyone’s distress can be a recipe for disaster and hurt.

Please remember:

If you or someone you know needs support, please reach out. And don’t forget to celebrate your new skills in thinking (and feeling) outside the box!