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We honor behavioral health workers during Mental Health Awareness Month

Mark McCullough
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Mental Health Awareness Month — observed in May since 1949 — is a time to focus on the challenges faced by millions of Americans living with mental health conditions. It’s also a time to honor AFSCME behavioral health members who help people cope with and overcome such challenges.

As case managers, residential coordinators, outreach specialists, counselors and so much more in the public and private sectors, AFSCME members are on the front lines, making a real difference for individuals and families, and helping them on their journeys towards mental wellness.

And AFSCME members in this field know that having a union makes a real difference in their ability to provide the care their clients need and deserve.

“Forming a union will allow us to pursue better working conditions and have a say in the decisions that affect all of us who work at ColumbiaCare and our clients,” said Residential Associate Melanie Hall, a member of Oregon AFSCME (Council 75). “We believe a union will help us better serve our clients’ needs and ensure the well-being of ColumbiaCare Services staff.”

Nearly 250 residential behavioral health staff at the statewide nonprofit based in Medford, Oregon, voted overwhelmingly in March to form a union through AFSCME to address major safety and continuity-of-care concerns.

Hall and her co-workers are part of the hundreds of behavioral health workers who have formed unions through AFSCME just this year. Whether in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York or Oregon, these critical front-line workers serve some of our nation’s most vulnerable and underserved populations.

“I love the work I do because I know I make a real difference in the lives of others. But we were not getting the resources and support from agency management. So we stood up and formed a union so that we can provide the best care,” said Mary Kuykendall, a teacher’s aide at UCAN Chicago, a community service agency. She voted to form a union through AFSCME Council 31.

Hall, Kuykendall and the more than 50,000 behavioral health professionals in the AFSCME family are lifting their voices and empowering their clients to drive change. During Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s honor the work they do to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health, foster public education and advocate for policies that prioritize the well-being of those who need mental or behavioral health services.