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Rural Health Information Hub

Coast to Forest: Mental Health Promotion in Rural Oregon and Beyond

  • Need: To promote mental health and prevent substance use disorders in rural Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska.
  • Intervention: Coast to Forest strengthens local capacity through training, education, and community partnerships.
  • Results: In its three years of operation, the project has trained over 500 individuals across the Pacific Northwest in Mental Health First Aid, developed 36 county-level resource guides, organized a series of Community Conversations in three rural Oregon counties, and more.


Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Family and Community Health Program and the OSU Center for Health Innovation created the Coast to Forest program to improve mental health and prevent substance use disorders in rural Oregon and beyond. Coast to Forest delivers programming at the local, state, and regional levels.

OSU received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Rural Health and Safety Education (RHSE) program to implement Coast to Forest programming in rural Baker, Lincoln, Tillamook, and Union counties. This work was later expanded in 2022 through the same funding source to include Lake County, OR and delivery of culturally-specific programming in Lincoln County. This component of the project has since concluded though certain program elements, namely the delivery of Spanish-language Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), have been folded into other funding sources, outlined below.

OSU subsequently received funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) through the Rural Health and Safety Education (RHSE) program to implement Coast to Forest programming in all 36 Oregon counties. This work was expanded in 2022, in collaboration with Washington State University, to Washington, Idaho, and Alaska.

Most recently, Coast to Forest received funding from SAMHSA through the Mental Health Awareness Training (MHAT) program to deliver tailored programming, including Mental Health First Aid and Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) in three rural Oregon counties: Benton, Linn, and Lincoln.

Other program partners include the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, Oregon Mental Health First Aid, Washington State University Cooperative Extension, local public health agencies and coordinated care organizations, community-based organizations, and community coalitions across all four states.

Services offered

  • Adult, Youth, and Spanish-language Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training for community members
  • Delivery of an adapted version of SAMHSA's Community Conversations About Mental Health
  • Capacity building and technical assistance for local partners through the delivery of a facilitator training and associated curriculum for Community Conversations About Mental Health, coordination of train-the-trainer opportunities for MHFA and QPR, and development of a self-paced Substance Use Disorders 101 online course
  • Development and dissemination of local mental health and substance use disorder resource guides
  • Development of a radio repository of interview guides, public service announcement scripts, and best practices for engaging with radio stations for community-based professionals across the Pacific Northwest
  • Education about mental health and substance use disorders offered through statewide Extension networks and a free-to-access web library of tools and resources
  • Media training to de-stigmatize mental health and substance use disorders, offered on-demand through the program's web library
Coast to Forest Updated Programming


In its three years of operation, Coast to Forest has trained over 500 individuals in MHFA, including English Adult, Spanish Adult, and Youth MHFA. 55% of Oregon MHFA participants lived or worked in rural areas. Participants increased their confidence in assisting a person experiencing a mental health or SUD-related challenge and increased their awareness of the common signs and symptoms of mental health and SUD-related challenges.

68% of SUDs 101 course participants who completed the pre- and post- quiz improved their knowledge, skills, and abilities related to SUDs and peer support fundamentals. In addition, those who completed the pre- and post-survey demonstrated increased confidence to perform helping behaviors.

The resulting action plans from the program's facilitation of Community Conversations in five rural Oregon counties have been used to prioritize funding, inform opioid settlement investments, guide Coordinated Care Organization (CCO) decision making, operationalize investments, and increase collaboration around prioritized action areas.

Finally, in collaboration with community partners, the Coast to Forest team has developed 36 county-specific resource guides and counting as they expand across the region. The guides were each reviewed by local partners. Coast to Forest aired over 900 radio programs (including PSAs and interview-style content) focused on mental health and SUD resources.

During an unprecedented time, both with the COVID pandemic and persistent increase in deaths of despair across the region and nation, the study team and community partners have responded to emerging local needs by effectively connecting local partners to critical resources in a timely way.


Delivering programming in diverse community settings requires flexibility and responsiveness to ever-changing community needs and landscapes. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges in the delivery of this program as the study team was committed to maintaining relationships with community partners and being considerate of the competing demands on their time and resources. Because of this, rollout of certain services like Community Conversations and radio programming was slower than anticipated. Additionally, the implementation of MHFA required more administrative oversight and coordination than anticipated, especially as MHFA instructors transitioned to remote delivery.

In being responsive to community needs, the study team often adapted the original project goals to be more in line with on-the-ground needs. In rural Union County Oregon, the team had originally committed to airing 30-minute radio interviews on an ongoing basis describing the Coast to Forest project and available resources for mental health and substance use disorders. However, in collaborating with partners in Eastern Oregon, the study team learned that there was actually a higher need for short soundbites that educated the public on these topics and offered one specific resource they could access. Though it required additional resources, expertise, and partnerships to accomplish these goals, in the end the team was able to successfully develop nine radio PSAs that aired over 900 times in four rural Eastern Oregon counties. This is just one example of how the team creatively responded to emerging needs in ways that both honored grant commitments and responded to community needs.

Regional expansion of the program has also been tempered in states where Extension resources are focused on traditional Extension programs like agriculture and youth development. In line with this, becoming familiar with health systems and resources in rural and frontier regions has required special care and attention.

Finally, the time and effort required to implement new program activities when personnel and resources are scarce have presented ongoing challenges throughout this project and have required adaptability and a collaborative team approach to accomplishing project goals.


The Coast to Forest program is ongoing and recently completed its third year. Outlined below are two key lessons for replication that the project team has learned.

  • If planning to deliver MHFA for a large number of people on a consistent basis, dedicate concentrated staff time for developing procedures for course planning and delivery, recruiting participants, coordinating course facilitation, and tracking participation. The MHFA platform does allow for team members to serve in a dedicated coordinator role to support course delivery, if desired.
  • Engage in community-based work with a lens of cultural humility and a focus on maintaining current and developing new and trusted relationships with community partners. This requires dedicated time and resources to do well. Community Conversations, for example, aimed to advance the work that was already being done in multiple counties by creating a space and structure for community leaders to share the strengths, gaps, and action areas of their local behavioral health system with one another to increase cohesion and collaboration.

Contact Information

Abbey Martin, Outreach Program Manager
Coast to Forest

Behavioral health
Community health workers
Health literacy
Networking and collaboration
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention

States served

Date added
November 23, 2021

Date updated or reviewed
January 19, 2024

Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2024. Coast to Forest: Mental Health Promotion in Rural Oregon and Beyond [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: [Accessed 21 February 2024]

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.