Mental health resources — where to turn in trying times 

Posted on December 25, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

A typical 17-year-old is under a lot of pressure. They have a lot of needs that need to be addressed.”

By Leslie Nicholson | Sonoma Sun

Pathways to finding mental health care are increasingly difficult for many Sonoma Valley residents. Waiting lists, out-of-pocket costs, and the worry and stress associated with a family member’s mental health issues are very real challenges.

Locally, Sonoma Valley Hospital and Sonoma Valley Community Health Center (SVCHC) are two options for local residents who need immediate care for mental health issues. 

“When a family member needs to be assessed for mental health issues, the SVCHC can provide the care needed to stabilize the patient,” explains Cheryl Johnson, executive director. “Patients with mild or moderate issues are referred to other local providers. If a patient has severe issues, arrangements are made that involve county resources.”

A typical 17-year-old is under a lot of pressure to try to meet the expectation that they go to college and figure out what they want to do, explains Johnson. “They have a lot of needs that need to be addressed.”

“SVCHC also provides the services of a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) to support local school sites,” says Johnson. “Following an incident at one of our local schools four years ago, it was determined that there was a need for an MFT on school campuses. One of the programs to develop with the help of the MFT is a Girls Circle. Young women in this program are given the support and skills to develop better communication and ways to avoid negative confrontations.”

“We also make sure that we provide the essential support for parents and caregivers,” added Johnson. “That includes offering a sliding-fee scale so that we can work with patients and caregivers to get them the help they need.”

Working with SVCHC is Sonoma Valley Hospital. The hospital’s Chief of Emergency Services, Dr. Jasper Schmidt, emphasizes the hospital’s commitment to caring for anyone needing to be seen for mental health emergencies. 

“We never turn anyone away,” says Schmidt. “Our staff and on-call psychiatrist are well trained to assess a patient’s mental health and get them the appropriate level of care. If a patient requires hospitalization and a subsequent transfer to a facility specializing in mental health, we will do whatever we can to keep them stable until space is available for them to be transferred. Patients that are able to receive outpatient care are referred to SVCHC.

“What people can expect when they come to our Emergency Room is that we will find the best option for the patient and that we do offer Pediatric Psychiatry for ages 0-18. The ages of most of the teens and young adults we see in the ER are from 14-21. Young adults from 19-21 are given the same assessments and the process to find them the right treatment is the same as well,” explains Schmidt.

“Navigating the system for people who do not require hospitalization is difficult because we send them home and ideally we hope to have them get online counseling or outpatient treatment at SVCHC,” continues Schmidt. “The infrastructure is currently overwhelmed and insurance can be an issue. COVID testing and results can also be a wrinkle in getting treatment started right away.”

Two other local agencies that are actively developing new mental health programs are the Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma Valley (BGCSV) and Hanna Boys Center.

A collaboration with Petaluma People Services gave the BGCSV a jump start into bringing a therapist to Sonoma Valley to begin working with Boys and Girl Club members. Although the therapist is working out of the Club’s Maxwell site, she is making weekly visits to the Teen Services program on Highway 12 as well.

“Thanks to the Catalyst Fund our vision of a clinical arm within our facility is becoming a reality,” says Cary Snowden, BGCSV president and CEO. “We are prepping our space at our Maxwell site for this program. We want to create a warm, safe environment for our members to be able to visit with our therapists. Services will be offered on a sliding scale to allow us to offer help to as many of our kids and their families as possible.”

Although the BGCSV currently has one counselor in the program, the program hopes to add three new therapists when they have completed their internships.

“I hope bringing more mental health services into the community has a ripple effect and that all providers in Sonoma Valley can collaborate,” says Snowden. “It is needed now more than ever and I hope to see programs grow and find ways to connect and support each other.”

Hanna Boys Center is undertaking a new mental health initiative that will officially open in mid-2022 and provide mental health services and programs for ages 0-24 and support for parents and guardians as well. 

Dr. Stephanie Smith, Hanna’s lead clinician, is optimistic about what Hanna’s new programs will offer not only Hanna students, but the Sonoma Valley community as well. 

“We plan to offer a wide variety of programs that include the traditional counseling for individuals and families, as well as parenting classes, after school programs, and more focused programs like Mommy and Me and Daddy and Me groups,” says Smith, who has been on staff at Hanna for four years.

Plans also include activities designed to support youth with resilience, prevention, early intervention, and trauma. 

“Activities that we will offer are yoga, mindful hiking, art, drama, music, and equine therapy, once we are up and running,” explains Smith. “The goal is for the youth to have fun, while also having the added benefits of reduced stress and healing.”

Hanna’s program will accept a mix of public and private insurance for some of their therapy services. 

“We want to help people find a good fit with a therapist,” explains Smith. “Trauma-based and evidence-therapy will be offered, as well as workshops and group-based sessions for adolescents that will focus on the misuse of alcohol and marijuana.”

Future plans at Sonoma Valley Health Center also include implementing advances in mental health care. 

“In the next two years we will be implementing a transformative model that focuses on factors that impact your health, such as genetics. This new model will also take into account things like your zip code, support systems, neighborhood, and how stress impacts your heart. By looking at what else is going on, we will have the chance to improve the types of coaching and support we can provide to our patients,” explains Johnson. “This model was propelled into higher priority during the COVID pandemic, and as patients being assessed with the new data are doing well.”

On Saturday, January 22, 2022 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. R.I.S.K. Sonoma/A Parent Support Network and Hanna Boys Center host “Listening To Our Community’s Needs –Youth, Teens and Families,” moderated by Maite Iturri. The event will take place at Hanna’s Auditorium, 17000 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. Many local nonprofits will be in attendance, including Hanna Boys Center, BGCSV, Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, Sonoma Valley Hospital, and Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance. Teens are encouraged to attend. The event is open to the public. 


2 thoughts on “Mental health resources — where to turn in trying times 

  1. I am no therapist but am raising my 14 year old grandson who has lived with me since he was 3. Mom passed and Dad passed out. He is a wonderful grandson. But he is going through change and questioning what he wants too. I never put pressure on him to pursue anything. He puts enough pressure on himself. I just try to be there when he wants to talk. Otherwise I keep my mouth shut. His generation will face a very uncertain future.

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