[Noozhawk’s note: Second in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first story.]
Mental health challenges in children, adolescents and young adults were an issue even before the COVID-19 pandemic altered nearly every aspect of life.
For many young people, their world was upended when home became school and social isolation alienated them from the friendships so critical to growth and connection.
While schools have reopened and life has resumed, the lingering impact of COVID-19 remains, with an alarming number of young people struggling with feelings of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, eating disorders and suicidal ideation.
The U.S. surgeon general’s advisory on the declining state of youth mental health during the pandemic highlights issues that the Family Service Agency — which includes Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center and Guadalupe’s Little House by the Park — and other youth-serving organizations are seeing in cases throughout Santa Barbara County.
Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, the Family Service Agency, or FSA, has several events planned to educate the community and heighten awareness of the organization’s capabilities to support those with mental or behavioral health issues.
FSA has partnered with the Mental Wellness Center and YouthWell for the last four years to offer Youth Mental Health First Aid training for adults. The free, virtual training teaches adults how to recognize, understand and respond appropriately to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
Just as CPR helps those without clinical training assist an individual having a heart attack, Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches participants skills to interact with a youth experiencing a mental health crisis, through a five-step action plan that ultimately connects youth with appropriate resources.
More than 2.5 million people nationwide are certified Mental Health First Aiders, and that number continues to grow.
Family Service Agency staff utilize play therapy methods when working with younger children. (Family Service Agency photo)
In the past three years, FSA, the Mental Wellness Center and YouthWell have certified more than 1,600 parents, mental health providers, educators and other school personnel in YMHFA.
There is also a new teen mental health evidence-based curriculum geared to students in grades 10 through 12 that provides similar training, teaching students how to identify a mental health concern in themselves or their friends, and connect peers with proper resources.
“It’s a newer program that we are pilot-testing,” said Lisa Brabo, executive director of FSA. “We are encouraged by early results and hopeful that the more people we educate about mental health, the more people we can help.”
An esteemed youth and child psychiatrist, Vinson is co-editor of Social (In)Justice and Mental Health and Pediatric Mental Health for Primary Care Providers.
She will be presenting on the topic of Supporting Youth Mental Health. Sponsorships and in-person tickets are available for purchase, and FSA is also offering a free livestream as a public service to further educate and advocate for greater mental health awareness.
Local youth encourage adults to take Youth Mental Health First Aid training. (Family Service Agency photo)
“One of the greatest challenges impacting the mental health crisis is the lack of therapists,” Brabo explained. “There simply aren’t enough therapists willing to take jobs to get us out of this crisis.”
While those most in need never get turned away, FSA has created new types of interventions for less severe cases.
“Sometimes all you need is connection,” Brabo told Noozhawk.
FSA helps facilitate hiking and other affinity groups, and also offers peer counseling, and an ombudsman program for seniors.
In addition, FSA continues work with students through a longstanding partnership with the local school districts, offering school-based mental health counseling in elementary and secondary schools. These services were expanded during the pandemic to provide education and support for teachers.
Results show positive improvements for overall quality of life, decreased likelihood of high-risk behaviors and depression, and improvement in students’ academic success.
Younger children and their parents or guardians can enroll in FSA’s Play Therapy and for families facing difficult issues like substance abuse or neglect, FSA offers Intensive In-Home Therapy.
There are support groups and counseling for nearly any family dynamic, and last year alone more than 400 people received thousands of hours of mental health counseling.
The Family Service Agency provides school-based counseling at 37 schools in Santa Barbara County. (Family Service Agency photo)
FSA is dedicated to advancing mental health throughout the county, and keeps abreast of the latest treatment options. The organization recently completed its participation in the National Council for Mental Wellbeing 2021-2022 Trauma-Informed Resilience-Oriented Learning Community. The year-long learning community placed FSA in a cohort with organizations from around the nation.
“The learning community was a great opportunity for us to strengthen our existing practices and policies and reaffirm our commitment to our clients, and the community, to be a truly trauma-informed and resilience-oriented organization,” said Nancy Ranck, FSA’ senior behavioral health program director.
Click here for more information on ticketing and virtual access to the Vinson event. Proceeds support programs for underserved children, families and seniors.
There is an upcoming YMHFA training on May 21 and will focus on camp counselors and other youth programs. In-person trainings resume in June. The course is free to Santa Barbara County residents. To register, visit BetheDifferenceSB.org, or call 805.884.8440.
— Ann Pieramici is a Noozhawk contributing writer. She can be reached at [email protected].