Wellness and Prevention: Needed: More Mental Health Workers

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Susan Parmelée

By Susan Parmelee

The past few years have had an impact on the mental health of most people, causing an increase in demand for services. Young people were impacted because early symptoms of mental health illnesses were missed during virtual schooling, social interaction crucial for emotional development was lost, and access to support was difficult.

The current youth mental health crisis in our community is exacerbated by the shortage of mental health professionals in our community and country. At the Wellness and Prevention Center (WPC), we work on solutions to develop the mental health workforce.

These efforts include a graduate student trainee program for young people to act as peer helpers in their schools and lead a youth advisory group to help young people get interested in careers in the field.

In 2018, the WPC launched a graduate student internship program. Working with local and national universities, we have provided clinical placements for 32 mental health professionals, many of whom now work in our schools and community.

Sophii Sandoval, ACSW, and Molly Banks, LCSW, were two of the first graduates from our training course. Sandoval is now WPC’s clinical director, and Banks has a private practice in San Clemente.

Two of our former graduate students are now school counselors at CUSD high schools, and another works in crisis intervention at the Orange County Department of Education.

Through the internship program, the WPC provides mentorship, opportunities for graduate students to develop clinical skills, and training for a career in mental health. Many interns also live in the community they serve, which gives them the opportunity to connect and give back.

In collaboration with local public and private secondary schools, the Wellness and Prevention Center team has developed peer support training for students. The curriculum for this training includes empathic listening, maintaining confidentiality and how to respond to a crisis.

Students who complete this training are then known by their classmates as someone they can schedule a time to talk with or talk to informally on campus. Peer support is effective in reducing the stigma around seeking help and in providing students with a supportive listener to talk about everyday stressors.

The Wellness and Prevention Center works to develop youth interest and leadership in youth wellness. Through our presence on multiple high school campuses, our prevention team has developed a Youth Advisory Group that works to support youth ages 12-25 through an innovative youth drop-in model (allcove.org) .

These young people serve as ambassadors to their school and community by raising awareness of the need to support the emotional and social health of young people, while assessing available resources and shaping the programming and design of Allcove South Orange County.

Some of the participants in this advisory group have completed an undergraduate degree in psychology, are attending a local college and have an interest in the mental health career field, or are in high school and may have experience with mental illnesses. Mental Health. This work allows young people to explore future careers in the field.

Another promising model is professional peer support. A Peer Support Specialist (close in age to the person they are helping) is someone who has “lived experience” who was formed to support those struggling with Mental Healthpsychological trauma or substance use.

Their personal experience of these challenges provides peer support specialists with expertise that professional training cannot replicate.

The California Department of Health Care Services provides financial support to train peers, and the Wellness & Prevention Center is exploring ways to implement training and employment of 18-25 year olds to provide peer support in our community .

The work of the Wellness and Prevention Center is supported by grants and generous donations from community members. Help us grow the workforce by donating through our website, wpc-oc.org.

Susan Parmelee is a Certified Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of the Center for Wellness and Prevention: wpc-oc.org. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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