In my 18 years serving on the Riverside County Behavioral Health Commission and in my role at the Coachella Valley Unified School District, I have witnessed great strides in the diversity and availability of mental health treatment programs for youth and young adults in our region.
I applaud the innovation and dedication of behavioral health professionals in Riverside County. We must continue to expand resources, normalize seeking help, look out for the well-being of our youth and respond to their needs.
Often, young people hesitate to seek help for mental health issues because of the stigma surrounding treatment or the fear that they will be labeled as unstable. Instead, they suffer anxiety, depression and other symptoms in silence.
Locally, Riverside County has taken numerous steps to address the need by increasing the affordability and convenience of treatment for all ages. The county continues to push the envelope on service, putting innovative programs in place. It is critical we keep this progress going.
Growing up in the Coachella Valley, I have seen the barriers our youth face in accessing mental health and substance abuse services. Imagine, for example, the struggle to get help during standard business hours for a teen playing after-school sports, or an individual who must choose between paid work or getting care.
In response, the county opened 24/7 services, with urgent care centers always staffed for walk-in appointments. Text messaging provides much-needed help for those who prefer not to talk in person or by phone. Only in the rarest cases are people placed in a conservatorship under the Public Guardian Program, which provides the highest level of services to our most vulnerable community members. No matter the situation, there is treatment when, where and how our youth and young adults need it.
The county operates three innovative Transitional Age Youth (TAY) drop-in centers geared specifically to teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 25.
The La Quinta Desert FLOW (Fun, Love, Opportunity and Wellness) Resource Center is staffed by professionals and peer-support specialists who provide free programs and services such as counseling, life skills, medication services and art. The center offers a safe space for LGBTQ youth and other at-risk teens and young adults to hang out.
A vital part of these services are the partnerships the county has with local nonprofits and organizations that provide mental health services.
Our schools are also a key resource to recognize struggles and help our children. On-site therapists and Social Emotional Learning lesson plans for teachers often serve as the first step. A simple check-in from a teacher can make a world of difference.
Schools serve as a critical starting point for improved mental health care for our youth, but they are not the only solution. In many cases, life outside the classroom significantly impacts the well-being of children through young adulthood. It’s essential that we adopt a holistic approach to integrating services, such as parenting classes, that best meet the needs of families. By addressing emotional well-being from all perspectives, including families, businesses and communities, we can expect to achieve better outcomes.
Riverside County offers robust opportunities for mental health treatment regardless of income or life circumstances. But we must keep evolving by expanding awareness and eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness.
I urge you to join me in keeping your ears to the ground, noticing those who may need assistance and helping them obtain it. Support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Community Access, Referral, Evaluation and Support (CARES) line at 800-499-3008 or text SHHELP to 844.204.0880.
Beatriz “Bea” Gonzalez is the expanded learning programs coordinator for the Coachella Valley Unified School District. She serves on the Riverside County Behavioral Health Commission, the Regional Access Project Foundation, Lift to Rise, the College of the Desert Board of Trustees and other community boards. Email her at email@example.com.