As the new school year rolls around, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved two ordinances on Tuesday to better improve mental health services for children and young adults, both in schools and on the go.
First, county officials voted to seek out more state funding to expand a mental health wellness center program in elementary, secondary and high schools.
Currently, 12 elementary, secondary and high schools in Santa Clara County have dedicated wellness centers for students to unwind, talk to a safe adult and seek out resources in mental health treatment.
After being given the go-ahead, the county's Behavioral Health Services Department will apply for a $1.6 million state grant that would increase staffing capacity on campuses. More mental health experts on campus would provide students who have "mild to moderate needs" with emotional support, re-engagement in school following absences and timely outreach to mental health care providers if needed, according to the grant item.
The second item allocates an additional $500,000 to fund the county's mobile mental health clinic services set to operate in October, drawn from the Behavioral Health Services Department budget.
Santa Clara County teamed up with two nonprofit mental health providers in July to create a crisis response team on wheels, equipped with licensed professionals who can evaluate and de-escalate people facing mental health challenges.
The hope is to leave mental health care to clinicians, rather than police, and reduce unnecessary hospitalizations, jail admissions and use of force in times of crisis.
With the funds, the mobile clinic team will receive more equipment and four new, full-time mental health specialists to further reach 16- to 24-year-olds in the county — otherwise known as "transitional age youth."
Once fully operational, residents in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Santa Clara and other major cities in the county can call the nation's new suicide-prevention hotline, 988, and be directed to county services. Partner nonprofit Pacific Clinics will assess the level of urgency over the phone, and send out a mobile crisis van for in-person help if necessary. Mental health provider Momentum for Health can transport a resident in need to stabilization services, if needed as well.
"Mental health services are more important than ever for our youth in Santa Clara County and the key is early intervention. This state funding will allow us to provide prevention and early intervention services to prevent mental illnesses from becoming severe and disabling among children and youth," Supervisor Cindy Chavez said in a statement following the meeting.
Chavez said the county has seen an uptick in depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation in youth even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
"These kinds of resources allow us as a community, to partner with schools, with health care clinics and with nonprofits to make sure that we're getting kids to the services they need," Chavez said.
She admitted that the "very tight labor market" in the mental health sector will pose a challenge, especially in a place where the cost of living is so high. Chavez said health care providers need to pay their clinicians well, so that this generation's mental health care workers, and the next, feel comfortable staying here.
"What it's going to require is not just more funding, but it also all of our institutions that need clinicians to work closely with schools, so those programs aren't impacted," Chavez said. "And let's even work with high schools, so we can help young people understand that they have an opportunity to have a career here and that we can pay them fairly to do it."