New virtual platform connects Santa Clara County youth with mental health services
A woman receives information from Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, the organization launching a new mental health initiative aimed at young people. File photo.

Mental health services are of the utmost importance during the COVID-19 pandemic and especially as the holiday season approaches with continued lockdowns, isolation and uncertainty, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

To address this need among young people in Santa Clara County, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County on Dec. 15 launched a platform to identify young people and connect them with services.

“We’ve been really trying to find a way to do this and really make an impact on the community,” Brady Umfleet, division director of behavioral sciences for Catholic Charities told San José Spotlight. “When you look at the mental health part of COVID-19, one in five people not only has a mental health challenge, but that’s almost doubled during the pandemic.

The Mental Health Initiative, offered online due to COVID-19 shutdowns, is sponsored through a partnership with Bank of America. Bank of America provided funding to Catholic Charities for a variety of programs related to COVID-19, and this initiative is part of those efforts.

Umfleet said Catholic Charities looked at how to reach out to clients since the initial lockdown in March, in particular children.

“I know if it would be me and I was nine or 10 years old, it would be really difficult (to cope),” he said.

Catholic Charities will identify children who may be hard to find due to various circumstances or may experience stigma for seeking help for mental health or behavioral health services.

Umfleet said his organization’s food pantries and churches are collaborating with county health, including Santa Clara County’s Call Center and Behavioral Health and Valley Medical Health, to identify people who need mental health services in relation to the new shutdowns.

“We’re trying to figure out what the best way to reach people is, not just for us but for the entire system,” Umfleet said.

The organization designed new forms in Spanish and English to make it easier for parents or guardians to complete mental health screenings and connect with the nonprofit’s services. Once approved, the children will then be linked to a Catholic Charities staff member to better assess which program fits their needs.

Umfleet said virtual services are not always successful for the populations Catholic Charities aims to serve, whether that be because of monetary needs or technology challenges, which is made more difficult during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand — compared to the previous school year, we’ve likely seen a 20 percent increase in (students’ need), beginning in the fall,” he said. “I think there are challenges of getting the word out, or a reluctance — which makes this initiative so important, to go out in public and get people screened.”

Jacquelyn Torres, deputy director of Uplift Family Services, said she has seen an increase in requests for assistance, including crisis services (which have remained in-person throughout the pandemic), mobile crisis services and a stabilization unit.

“A lot of kids, without the in-person school, there’s sort of a bubble of pressure for families in the home environment,” she said. “We see a lot more outreaches for working through situations, in particular because kids and families don’t have as many of the breaks as they usually would from each other.”

Torres said the agency typically provides a lot of school-based services, which have been shifted during the pandemic to a hybrid of a telehealth platform and in-person consultations. However, telehealth has led to challenges for keeping younger children engaged as well, with smaller segments of 10 to 15 minute check-ins.

Some students have also been intimidated or embarrassed by having their homes and personal spaces shown online during school.

“With the schools, we’ve done a lot of work to just say any family that needs a touchstone or a check-in, we are doing that — we had a school district identify 75 kids in one day,” she said. “For future service delivery, if it’s the right fit, telehealth will help us reach more kids and families.”

Raquel González, president of the Silicon Valley market of Bank of America, said uncertainty and social isolation, among many other unexpected challenges of the prolonged pandemic, have greatly affected mental health needs, leading to the importance of this collaboration.

“Catholic Charities’ mobile mental health unit services helps address critical needs that often go unspoken,” she said. “Our partnership with the organization helps address basic needs, and provides PPE and other resources to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”

As the pandemic continues, so will the need for mental health services. Umfleet said he hopes the initiative will be only the first step toward providing more resources in Santa Clara County.

“We want to make sure folks in need are getting the services that they could really use, in particular the hard-hit communities, (specifically) children,” he said. “If we assist them young, that should have a positive impact as they grow up.”

For parents and additional family members that would also benefit from services, Umfleet encourages them to get in touch with Catholic Charities, and see how the organization can help them as well.

“There’s way more people that need help, so we need to increase that awareness,” he said.

Contact Grace Stetson at [email protected] and follow her @grace_m_stetson on Twitter.

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