As the community seeks to process the most recent round of gun violence following the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting on July 28 and shootings the following week in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, mental health has been at the forefront of community conversation.
Rhetoric around mass shootings tends to focus on the mental health of the perpetrators. While this line of thinking is of concern, assistant director of the San Benito County Behavioral Health Department Rachel White said, “We are committed to the destigmatization of mental health care. Those in need of mental health support are not usually violent; in fact, they are far more likely to be victimized. The shootings in our country this week are because of bigotry and hate, not because of diagnosable issues.”
The health department seeks to provide a haven for people who have been affected by the recent violence.
“As things start to settle down, it really sinks in how close to home these shootings have been,” White said. “We anticipate an increase for the need of supportive services.”
White said she and her team provide specialty mental health services for anyone who wants it, including those who do not have insurance. The bilingual department has an in-house psychiatrist who can dispense medications, provide individual, family, and group counseling, and administer substance abuse services, with priority given to pregnant mothers.
White said she hopes that every person in the community knows that “our doors are always open.”
County Behavioral Health participates in an extensive network of health care services. They partner closely with Youth Alliance, which in addition to offering mental health services for young people, continues to provide a Mental Health First Aid training workshop. In this two-day class, participants learn a five-step action plan to recognize and intervene appropriately in mental health crises. The next workshop will be Sept. 12-13.
Youth Alliance Executive Director Diane Ortiz said the organization hopes to offer a Mental Health First Aid workshop in Gilroy in the future.
“We are also having drop-in hours at the Gilroy Youth Impact Center for youth and will be working with partners to identify other opportunities to support youth and families,” Ortiz said.
At the Esperanza Center, youth from age 14 and adults can find free drop-in services, including support groups, games and activities, and wellness classes. The center also provides a safe community for LGBTQ youth and allies.
To serve the retired and elderly communities, the department regularly sends its team to Jovenes de Antaño and Prospect Villa to provide activities, games and welfare check-ins. The team also links seniors with services that can benefit them.
Behavioral Health also partners with the Family Services Agency of the Central Coast to provide training for first responders to care for people in crisis appropriately and effectively.
For those who do not wish to go to the office, the Behavioral Health Department is available for brief sessions at the San Benito Health Foundation every Monday. Both English- and Spanish-speaking counselors are available to answer questions and participate in casual, confidential conversations.
The Behavioral Health Department office is located at 1131 San Felipe Road in Hollister. Regular office hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The office hours telephone number is (831) 636-4025. They can be reached at any time, including nights and weekends, at (888) 636-4020. The office website is http://cosb.us/county-departments/health/.