Tag Archives: mental health

Mental Health Awareness Doesn’t End in May for the Mental Wellness Center

Throughout the pandemic, many people who had never experienced mental health challenges found themselves struggling for the first time. If you found that the pandemic impacted your mental health, you are not alone.

In November 2020, the CDC reported that 44% of us were experiencing either depression or anxiety. And of the almost half a million individuals that took a mental health screening at mhascreening.org, 79% showed symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety.

This past year has challenged us all, testing our strength and resiliency. Hope is on the horizon.

During the month of May, the Mental Wellness Center and the rest of the country came together and focused on raising awareness of the importance of mental health.

THANK YOU for celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month with us. And remember – mental health awareness doesn’t stop in May, and should be recognized and prioritized every day because right now, mental health has never been more important.

As the Mental Wellness looks to the future, we have hope. Join the Mental Wellness Center this summer, along with our wonderful community partners, as we raise awareness of mental health in our community.

Save the Date for the 2nd Annual Peace of Mind Fundraiser with Alma Rosa Winery on Saturday, July 24, 2021 at Alma Rosa’s 628-acre estate, located north of Santa Barbara near Buellton. This fundraiser helped the Mental Wellness Center raise more than $70,000 last year and we are so thankful to Alma Rosa Winery for their continued support of our organization. Registration opens soon, visit mentalwellnesscenter.org/peaceofmind to learn more! 

And, in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, 10% of all proceeds from Alma Rosa’s May sales will directly benefit the Mental Wellness Center. Shop online today and support our organization! 

Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) is a comprehensive, online training that teaches educators, family members, and caregivers (18+ years old) how to approach, assess, and assist a young person with a mental health challenge or substance use concern.

YMHFA is offered monthly throughout Santa Barbara County and is available in both English and Spanish. The classes are provided by Family Service Agency, Mental Wellness Center, and the Youthwell Coalition. Free online trainings will be offered from 9AM-2PM on the following dates: June 3, June 15, July 8, July 20, August 10, and August 19. To learn more and register, please visit: bethedifferencesb.org.

Healthy People Healthy Trails Supports Mental Wellness in our Community

We all know that going out for a walk is good for our physical health, but it doesn’t stop there. Research shows that getting outside in nature has many mental health benefits as well. Walking has been proven effective in reducing anxiety and depression, and there is further evidence that walking in nature improves those results even further. That’s because different parts of our brain activate in nature. Our mind calms, leading to physical changes including a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure. But don’t think you have to hike a mountain to feel the results. Spending time outside at a park or any green space can have the same effect. Even if it’s only for a few minutes during a lunch break, getting out in nature can positively impact your mental health. 

Healthy People Healthy Trails (HPHT) is an innovative program designed to strengthen the connection between the use of local public parks and trails and individual healthcare. The program is supported by a dynamic group of community partners including local doctors and health care providers, trail advocates and stewards, land managers, and the National Park Service. The Mental Wellness Center is proud to support Healthy People, Healthy Trails! Healthy People Healthy Trails offers a set of maps with easy local walking routes. Browse the website and choose a trail that is right for you. We hope you find the maps useful and the trails enjoyable!

Being in nature is good for the body and mind. Join the Spring Healthy People Healthy Trails Challenge and sign-up and pledge to be active outdoors. Each time you submit your outdoor activity you are entered into a drawing for the chance to win monthly prizes. Visit www.healthypeoplehealthytrails.org and join the Spring Challenge today! 

And please remember, you are not alone; the Mental Wellness Center is always here for you. If you or someone you know is in need of mental health resources and support, please connect with us today at: www.mentalwellnesscenter.org or by giving us a call at 805-884-8440.

New Beginnings

When COVID-19 first closed down in-person meetings, everyone hurried to figure out online opportunities. But New Beginnings Counseling Center (NBCC) had a leg up, having already nearly completed a partial pivot to Zoom before the pandemic opened the floodgates toward the platform. 

It turns out the nonprofit had recognized a need to find a way to serve community members suffering from mental health challenges who, for distance, logistical, or other reasons, aren’t able to come into the clinic’s downtown Santa Barbara offices. So when COVID hit, the 50-year-old nonprofit benefitted from having already partnered with Zoom to provide a platform on virtual counseling sessions for those in need.  

“It was sheer dumb luck that we’d already made that deal and received a grant to develop and implement a telehealth counseling system countywide to help people who weren’t able to comes to us,” said Executive Director Kristine Schwarz. “It was important to reach people who wouldn’t be able to get counseling otherwise.”  

Still the pandemic made the niche program look microscopic in comparison to the burgeoning demand for online services once the lockdown prevented nearly all in-person meetings from taking place.  

“We had just developed the foundational aspects, the operating manual, the structure for this kind of a program just as the COVID (crisis) happened,” Schwarz explained. “We had just literally pressed the button to start it and suddenly we had to train every one of our counselors on how to do sessions online all at the same time. And we surely hadn’t anticipated having to transition every single client to telehealth.” 

The good news is that New Beginnings did have the protocols and the manual already in place, so ramping up was reasonable. And when other agencies reached out to NBCC and asked to take a look at what they’d done, Schwarz said, NBCC “were very happy to share whatever relevant information could help.”

Of course, transitioning to Zoom has been just one of the adjustments New Beginnings Counseling Center has had to make to cope with COVID, said Development Director Michael Berton. “Mental health was already a huge and growing need in our community as people are looking for access to services. And with COVID, we’ve had a huge uptake in clients who are reaching out at the same time we’ve also received a request for reductions in fees due to job losses by our clients,” he said. “We’ve taken a big hit in clinic income because our mission is to not turn anyone away for inability to pay. But we continue to stand strong in the counseling center and offer those services.”

Of course, that’s nothing new for NBCC, which has come up with several important new programs during its half a century in town, including Safe Parking, its innovative Shelter and Rapid Rehousing Program that provides safe overnight parking to individuals and families living in their vehicle since 2004. Safe Parking has served as a model for dozens of other communities throughout the country and currently manages more than 150 spaces in 26 parking lots throughout Santa Barbara, Goleta, and the neighboring unincorporated areas of the county, toward the goal of ending homelessness for individuals, families, and veterans. 

NBCC’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which operates from a housing first model to help end veteran homelessness within Santa Barbara County, has also had challenges with the pandemic, including an immediate need to shelter 16 chronically homeless former servicemen who suddenly had to shelter in place.

COVID caused other havoc, taxing NBCC’s staff, who nevertheless stepped up in innovating ways, according to Schwarz. 

“The last year was like triage, with constant crises every day,” she said. “I was always wondering, what’s today’s catastrophe going to be?”

Dozens of NBCC’s clients and other vulnerable members of the community either from homelessness or with mental health issues had all of their support essentially pulled out from under them, Schwarz said, necessitating handling whatever emergency presented itself, Schwarz said. 

“Almost immediately we had people coming to us saying, ‘I have no food, I have no place to go to the bathroom.’ So I was going to Ralphs at seven in the morning twice a week for five months getting literally baskets of food. The other thing that was a huge effort is using the CARES funds to put medically frail people into motels. We’re up to about sixty of them over the last ten months, so we built new partnerships with Holiday Inns and Super to get people off the street.” 

The astonishing part is that New Beginnings has been handling all this while dealing with a significant reduction in financial support, to the tune of a more than 70 percent drop in income from the counseling clinic at one point last year, Schwarz said. “That’s our main source of earned income for the agency. But almost everybody asked for a fee reduction and you can’t say no.”  

That’s because, not surprisingly, the need is greater than ever, she said.  

“For the second quarter in a row during COVID, we’ve seen an increase in the level of distress, even with clients receiving counseling. That’s never happened in the nine years I’ve been here. There’s been an overall decrease in symptomatology but we do assessments every eight weeks to see how people are doing, and almost everyone is really stressed.” 

Meanwhile, New Beginnings is facing reductions in potential funding from the second round federal aid due to technicalities. Meaning donations can really help ease some of the burden at the moment.  

“Donations from people really do help us to continue to support those who really need a lot of assistance and don’t have any money, whether it’s counseling, or rental assistance or food,” Schwarz said. “There’s only so much to go around. And the more resources we have, the more we can help more people who really, really don’t have any.”

New Beginnings | (805) 963-7777 | https://sbnbcc.org

Why Give?

My parents, Michael and Gail Towbes, moved to Santa Barbara County in 1957, and from the beginning, they were deeply engaged in supporting the community where they lived. Initially, they donated their time and energy as volunteers, and my sister and I often tagged along. It was just part of who we were as a family.

My parents loved Santa Barbara. Our “American Riviera” was the perfect blend between a sleepy beach town and a cosmopolitan mecca; a unique synergy between an intimate, close-knit community and a sophisticated metropolis. They believed that supporting the organizations that make this place special was our civic duty. Although my parents didn’t talk much about what motivated their philanthropy, they instilled these values in the next generation and led by example. In 1980, my parents founded the Towbes Foundation. That first year, they granted a whopping total of $500. We’ve grown a bit since then and in the past 40 years, the Towbes Foundation has granted over $20 million dollars to more than 400 organizations on the Central Coast. I grew up with philanthropy.

George Mason University economics professor, Zoltan J. Acs, author of the 2013 book Why Philanthropy Matters, notes, “Philanthropy does two things. First, it reconstitutes wealth and second it creates opportunity for others.”

Dr. Acs’s philosophy is at the core of why I have chosen to continue the work that my parents began. It’s a basic responsibility for those of us who have resources to give back to society. I believe in the social justice teachings at the heart of Judaism, embodied in the concept, Tikkun Olam, which translates to “repairing the world.” Tikkun Olam compels us to take individual and collective action to make the world a better place. Philanthropy can be an effective tool to catalyze large-scale social change, particularly when we get out of our silos and collaborate with other funders, government partners, and grantee organizations.

Our goal is to give where we can make the greatest impact and where our investment can provide leverage.

The Towbes Foundation has matured over the years. Historically, like many family foundations, our original giving patterns were unstructured. My parents brought their personal interests to the boardroom and let those passions lead their giving. Although my mom passed away nearly 25 years ago, my father continued the tradition of giving a little bit of money to a lot of organizations. This approach, which I call “sprinkling,” casts a wide net, but without much depth. In recent years, and with the dedication of a talented Board, we have begun to look at grantmaking more strategically.

A wise funding partner gave me some insightful advice shortly after my dad passed away in 2017. This person suggested that, given the complex and systemic nature of social problems, it helps to focus on what you know. If the target of grantmaking is lodged in an area of funder expertise, then the funder can be more of an active partner in the work. This resonated with me.

My background is in education and child mental health. I was a special education teacher before becoming a child psychologist and I maintain a busy child-and family-focused psychological services practice in Santa Barbara. Giving to organizations and collaborations that address child well-being makes sense, and there are plenty of needs here to be addressed. As a result, the Towbes Foundation is undergoing a shift from “sprinkling” and toward focusing our resources in the areas we know. Our goal is to give where we can make the greatest impact and where our investment can provide leverage.

COVID-19 has created a myriad of needs in our community.Simultaneously, the country’s racial disparities, amplified by the murder of George Floyd, have highlighted longstanding inequities.Many of these needs and injustices fall in the areas of our expertise: education, child well being, and mental health. These intertwined crisis points have led me to personally re-examine the ways in which I give. 

I think it’s critical to move away from a transactional approach where the rich (and the white) donate to the poor (and the nonwhite), without really interacting or creating community. My goal moving forward is to focus on long-term systemic change through partnership and collaboration. To quote Dana Kawaoka-Chen, the Executive Director of the Bay Area Justice Funders, “For those of us in a position to redistribute resources, this is a moment in which we must urgently act with moral clarity and choose which side of history we want to be on.”

Making our little slice of paradise in Santa Barbara a better place to live for everyone is at the center of why I give. It’s meaningful work, it strengthens community, and it’s pretty fun.

– Carrie Towbes

A New Beginning for Santa Barbara’s Most Vulnerable

While New Beginnings’ work began with its counseling services more than 50 years ago, it has grown into a countywide service agency not only supporting mental health, but also the homeless and vets.

“We’re here to serve our most vulnerable community members with their most pressing problems,” says Development Manager Michael Berton. “We’ve identified those to be mental illness and homelessness. We’ve seen the veteran population struggle with these areas even more and have a dedicated program for them now.”

A major turning point came in 2003, when the nonprofit partnered with the city and the county to launch the “Safe Parking” Program, which provides safe, overnight shelter in monitored parking lots for people living out of their cars. The 2020 homeless count found that 51% of Santa Barbara County’s unsheltered residents were living out of their cars. 

When Safe Parking was started, big media outlets including Rolling Stone, CNN, and The Los Angeles Times took notice, lauding the program as a way off the streets for those on the brink of homelessness. Since 2003, New Beginnings has moved more than 2,000 people into permanent housing, making Safe Parking a standout among myriad national initiatives aimed at mitigating the deepening homelessness crisis.

New Beginnings is also the leading nonprofit service provider for homeless veterans in Santa Barbara County, housing 100 veterans and their families each year, all while providing comprehensive services aimed at keeping them off the street.

The agency’s 50-year-old Counseling Center in downtown Santa Barbara provides mental health counseling and psychological testing and assessment to more than 600 at-risk individuals and families in the greater Santa Barbara area each year. It’s 30-plus masters and doctoral level counselors offer their services at an average of $13 per session thanks to the nonprofits exceedingly lean operation: 91% of revenue is spent on programs and clients.

In 2020, the agency put more than a quarter of its $2 million a year budget – $600,000 – back into the community; buying mattresses for its homeless clients, renting storage spaces, and covering rental costs. Whatever it takes to help.

For donors looking to make an impact and who want to know that their money is going straight into helping people, Berton frankly says: “New Beginnings is the most bang for your buck.”

Changing Course

For nearly 75 years, the aim of Santa Barbara’s Mental Wellness Center has been to help adults living with mental illness live their best life. By providing numerous practical services including affordable housing sites and a social center called the Fellowship Club, they provide a connection to essential resources.

Twenty years ago a major revelation led to the addition of a new way of addressing mental health and the aim to prevent the impact of untreated mental illness. The decision to address early intervention through education became an imperative when the CEO, Annmarie Cameron, learned a startling fact. Fifty percent of all mental illness has its onset of symptoms by age fourteen,” Cameron says. “Young people need to know that while mental illness can feel frightening, it doesn’t need to be. Like diabetes, asthma, or any medical issue, mental illness can be treated.”

Our mental health care system is built on a model that waits for a crisis to identify the illness. By giving young people basic facts about mental illness, and strategies for self-care of their own mental health we expect to improve the chances that a crisis is avoidable.

The Mental Wellness Center is betting on young people. Across three privately funded programs, the Mental Wellness Center is reaching thousands of local youth and their families.

Mental Health Matters is an original program developed by the Mental Wellness Center’s Education Committee. It introduces basic facts about mental health to elementary, middle and high school students. The underlying premise is that with understanding, youth will know to seek help should they or someone they know experience symptoms of a possible mental health disorder, knowing that early treatment tends to lead to better outcomes. In 2019, 18 trained volunteers delivered the Mental Health Matters curriculum in more than 50 classrooms throughout Santa Barbara County.

The positive feedback about Mental Health Matters received from students, parents, and teachers is reaffirming of this program. Parents report that their families are impacted by mental health issues and need a way to talk about them that isn’t scary or stigmatized. 

Ten years ago, the Mental Wellness Center joined a growing national and international movement to widely teach the general public basic skills for Mental Health First Aid. Targeted versions of this program reach those who work with young people and youth themselves.

In January 2020, the Mental Wellness Center participated in a pilot of teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA), the first of its kind developed for high school students in the U.S. tMHFA is designed for high school students to identify and respond to a mental health or substance use problem among their peers.“ My dream is that the teen Mental Health First Aid program is in every high school,” said Born this Way Foundation’s co-founder, Lady Gaga, who funded the national pilot initiative.

The Wellness Connection Council (WCC) is the newest program of the Mental Wellness Center. The WCC is a high school leadership program that educates, empowers and engages students who raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health by promoting self-care, kindness through connection, prevention, education, and outreach amongst their peers. In fall of 2020, the WCC welcomed 60 local high school students to their leadership council from high schools throughout Santa Barbara County. 

“I see this as our future,” Cameron says. “We will always provide essential services for adults that live with mental illness and we will educate young people and empower a new generation to seek support and prioritize their own mental health.” 

1 in 5 youth and young adults live with a mental health condition and right now, mental health has never been more important. If you share in Cameron and the Mental Wellness Center’s youth-driving vision, donate today.