At the Oct. 23 San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting, members of Youth Alliance shared personal stories to emphasize the need for improved mental health resources.
Lorena J., parent of a Youth Alliance member, said her then-14-year-old daughter attempted suicide in 2014 by ingesting pills and through self-injury. Although this family was agreeable to releasing their full names, BenitoLink policy is to avoid publishing full names in relation to suicide attempts.
After finding her in the bathtub, Lorena transported her daughter to Hazel Hawkins Hospital where she was instructed to wait in line with everyone else.
“My daughter was covered in blood and pretty much lifeless,” Lorena said.
The hospital provided a list of coping skills for her daughter to practice, like listening to music, walking her dog, sitting in the dark and painting her nails.
“I begged and pleaded,” Lorena said. “This person came from our own Mental Health Department. She was very unprofessional. I will never take my daughter back there again.”
Lorena said she quit her job to take care of her daughter, which involved driving to Santa Cruz for mental health services in a three-month program. It was four days a week, four hours a day.
Lorena’s daughter said youth need counselors for therapy, not just for academics, because staff are not trained on how to help a student who is in crisis.
“All they do is pull up your bad grades and place judgment on you, wondering why you’re anxious in the first place,” Lorena's daughter said.
She said it was three years before she found there was a school psychologist, but she was unable to be seen because the psychologist dealt with special needs students only.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 6,159 people in the U.S. between the ages of 10 and 24 committed suicide in 2016. It was the second leading cause of death behind unintentional injury that same year.
Kids Data reports there were no suicides in San Benito County in 2015, the latest available data. The website also says that 50 percent of youth in the county who identify as gay, bisexual, or lesbian considered suicide between 2013-15. In that same period, in the county, 15.7 percent of those who identify as heterosexual and 27.7 who were unsure of their sexual orientation contemplated suicide.
The San Benito County Behavioral Health contracts Family Service Agency of the Central Coast to provide suicide prevention training to first responders. According to the mental health services three-year expenditure plan (2017-20), 83 people participated in the training at the Veterans Memorial Building in fiscal year 2017-18.
Janette Martinez from Youth Alliance read a letter from the parents of an 18-year-old who receives support from the organization.
In the letter, the parents stated their adopted son had learning and behavior problems when he began school in Hollister. His behavior got “out of control” when he reached high school, leading to probation for most of his teen years, Martinez read.
“I see now that we should have received appropriate and specialized help from school and the county because of the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and neglect and attention deficit disorder,” Martinez read. “I wish that someone had told us that the little boy we adopted would need extensive lifelong support that pills alone would not remedy.”
The letter ended with the parents asking supervisors to make behavioral health services something to be proud of, not something to blame.
Other members of Youth Alliance spoke about their experiences growing up in a “broken family” and how behavioral health services could help youth make better choices.
Youth Alliance Executive Director Diane Ortiz said the organization had spoken with over 3,000 community members and discovered a disconnect between county leaders and the behavioral health department. She said there are 1,080 residents for each mental health provider, that it takes an average of three months to see a therapist. One in four students in alternative education has contemplated suicide, Ortiz said.
Chamberlain’s Children Center executive director Patrick Ellis and Community Action Board chairman Richard Perez Sr., said they supported Youth Alliance in asking the supervisors for leadership to develop more services for youth.
“It doesn’t just affect the young people,” Perez said. “What it does, it affects everyone within the community because when you have people who are untrained in law enforcement that don’t know how to deal with these issues, that’s when serious problems can arise.”
Perez said the solution is to create pathways for youth to find their talents and hidden potential, through mentorship from people invested in youth and the community.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho said the board would consider putting it on the agenda to explore the county’s options, but that a lot of times services are dependent on state funding.
Supervisor Mark Medina told BenitoLink he also wanted the item agendized. The first step is to understand the issue and get educated, Medina said. He said that he wants to set up a meeting with Ortiz and San Benito County Superintendent of Schools Krystal Lomanto in order to decide the best step to take as a government body.
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