Jeffrey Blum
Jeffrey Blum. (submitted)

On a recent rainy Saturday morning, I attended a Rotary meeting in Cupertino. My purpose in going was to learn more about the state of mental health services in the county, in my role as a commissioner on the Los Gatos Community Health and Senior Services Commission (CHSSC). 

After preparing a report for the Los Gatos Town Council outlining the mental health crisis in Santa Clara County and deficiencies in the provision of services, CHSSC hopes to create a road map for improving the delivery of mental health services in our community. It is an overwhelmingly large problem to wrap one’s arms around.

In 2022, Santa Clara County declared a state of emergency on the mental health and substance abuse crisis. Having listened to speakers at prior talks addressing these issues and having spoken to numerous care providers, I am convinced the county’s call to action is appropriate.

Our county has experienced a substantial increase in the suicide rate and the drug overdose death rate in the last few years. There is a shortage of psychiatric beds, forcing many with mental health emergencies to wait in emergency rooms for days. Long waitlists and insufficient resources make timely access to therapy and medication management challenging. There is also a lack of mental health professionals. About one in five adults in Santa Clara County experience mental health or substance abuse issues each year and only about one-half of those needing mental health services receive treatment.

What is perhaps most distressing is the significant increase in the level of depression, bullying, social pressure, suicidal ideation and other mental health-related issues our youth are experiencing.

With this sorry picture as the backdrop, I was heartened to hear five presenters speak at the Rotary meeting about the work their organizations are doing to address the mental health crisis.

The first presenter from the Center for Child and Adolescent Mental Health recruits and trains teens to serve in advisory groups for outreach to first-generation immigrants. This organization believes that the lack of access to mental health care is a major problem. Their goal thus is to inform these first-generation immigrants about the services available to them as they navigate integrating into their schools and the community.

Heard Alliance provides resources for youths, families, educators and others to combat bullying, depression and suicide. They collaborate with the Behavioral Health Services of Santa Clara County. Linda Lenoir, the speaker for Heard Alliance, the former school district nurse in Palo Alto, and a former colleague of mine on the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission, is a suicide prevention training manager for Heard Alliance.

The next presenter was Marico Sayoc, our former mayor, and the executive director of Counseling and Support Services for Youth (CASSY). CASSY is embedded in the schools and provides individual counseling, group counseling, school partnerships, classroom presentations, family connection and crisis intervention when needed.

The Community Health Awareness Council is dedicated to training mental health service providers. They have family resource centers, and they collaborate with First Five, which works in the court system in the county. They also offer a father support group and a parent support group. They believe in the importance of every child having access to five caring and trusted adults.

Several presenters emphasized that the major protective factor against mental health problems for youth was in our youth having a caring and trusted adult available.

The final presenter was from Ambassadors of Compassion, which also serves to help solve the mental and emotional health crisis facing youth. They are having a Resiliency Building Kickoff event at Levi’s Stadium later this year, with the goal of bringing 10,000 students there for training in how to build resilience.

One of Rotary International’s goals for 2023-2024 is to promote mental health awareness and services. Thus, Rotary District 5170, which includes Rotary Club of Los Gatos where I am a member, and the Cupertino Rotary Club, appropriately began 2024 with speakers aiming to educate our community and call attention to the state of emergency in mental health in our county. It was a hopeful and inspiring start to 2024. Inspired by what I heard, my goal with other commissioners is to see that CHSSC plays a role in efforts to tackle this substantial crisis.

Jeffrey P. Blum is a family law mediator who lives in Los Gatos. He can be reached at [email protected].

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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