service agency puts much-needed focus on youth mental well-being | Good for Santa Barbara


[Noozhawk’s note: Second in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first story.]

Mental health issues in children, teens, and young adults were a problem even before the COVID-19 pandemic altered nearly every aspect of life.

For many young people, their world was turned upside down as home became school and social isolation alienated them from the friendships so essential for growth and connection.

As schools have reopened and life resumed, the lingering impact of COVID-19 remains, with alarming numbers of young people struggling with feelings of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, mental disorders diet and suicidal ideation.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on declining mental health in young people during the pandemic highlights issues that the Family Service Agency – which includes the Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center and Guadalupe’s Little House by the Park – and other youth-serving organizations are seeing cases across Santa Barbara County.

Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, the Family Service Agency, or FSA, has planned several events to educate the community and raise awareness of the organization’s abilities to support people with mental or behavioral health issues. .

The FSA has partnered with the Mental Wellness Center and YouthWell for the past four years to provide training in mental health first aid for young people for adults. 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 help someone who is having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid for Youth teaches participants the skills needed to interact with a young person in mental health crisis. , through a five-step action plan that ultimately connects youth to appropriate resources.

More than 2.5 million people nationwide are certified mental health first aiders, and that number continues to grow.

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Family Services Agency staff use play therapy methods when working with young children. (Photo by Family Services Agency)

Over the past three years, the FSA, Mental Wellness Center and YouthWell have certified more than 1,600 parents, mental health providers, educators and other YMHFA school staff.

There’s also a new evidence-based curriculum in teen mental health for students in grades 10-12 that offers similar training, teaching students how to identify a mental health issue in themselves. themselves or with their friends, and connect their peers to the appropriate resources.

“It’s a newer program that we’re currently testing,” said FSA executive director Lisa Brabo. “We are encouraged by the early results and hope that the more people we educate about mental health, the more we can help.”

The FSA also hosts its annual fundraiser May 12 at Santa Barbara’s Woman’s Club, 670 Mission Canyon Road, featuring an evening with Dr. Sarah Vinson.

An esteemed youth and child psychiatrist, Vinson is co-editor of (In)Social 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 the FSA also offers free live streaming as a public service to educate and advocate for greater mental health awareness.

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Local youth are encouraging adults to take Mental Health First Aid for Youth training. (Photo by Family Services Agency)

“One of the biggest challenges impacting the mental health crisis is the lack of therapists,” Brabo explained. “There just aren’t enough therapists willing to take jobs to get us out of this crisis.”

While those most in need are never turned away, the FSA has created new types of interventions for less serious cases.

“Sometimes all you need is a connection,” Brabo told Noozhawk.

The FSA helps facilitate hiking and other affinity groups, and also offers peer counseling and an ombudsman program for seniors.

Additionally, the FSA continues to work with students through a long-standing partnership with local school districts, providing school mental health counseling in elementary and secondary schools. These services have been expanded during the pandemic to provide teacher training and support.

Results show positive improvements in overall quality of life, decreased likelihood of high-risk behaviors and depression, and improved student academic achievement.

Young children and their parents or guardians can enroll in FSA’s play therapy and for families dealing with difficult issues such as substance abuse or neglect, FSA offers intensive in-home therapy.

There are support groups and counseling for almost every family dynamic, and last year alone, more than 400 people received thousands of hours of mental health counseling.

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The Family Service Agency provides school-based counseling in 37 schools in Santa Barbara County. (Photo by Family Services Agency)

The FSA is dedicated to advancing mental health throughout the county and keeping up to date with the latest treatment options. The organization recently completed its participation in the National Council for Mental Wellbeing 2021-2022 Resilience-Focused and Trauma-Informed Learning Community. The year-long learning community has placed FSA in a cohort with organizations from across the country.

“The Learning Community has been 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 resiliency-focused organization,” said Nancy Ranck, senior FSA. director of the behavioral health program.

Click here for more information on the Family Services Agency. Click here to donate online.

Click here for more information on ticketing and virtual access to the Vinson event. Produces 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. Face-to-face training resumes in June. The course is free for residents of Santa Barbara County. To register, visit or call 805.884.8440.

– Ann Pieramici is a contributing writer for Noozhawk. She can be reached at [email protected].


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