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Students gather in Santa Barbara to advocate for mental health services in schools

Courtesy Mental Health Services Oversight & Accountability Commission
Students from across California recently gathered at UCSB to promote mental health services in schools

Trying to improve mental health services for California students, a group of young people from around the state recently met up in Santa Barbara to come up with new ideas. And it included students and mental health advocates from across the Central Coast.

Applause filled the Corwin Pavilion at the University of California, Santa Barbara Friday for the inaugural Youth Innovation Idea Lab. The University of California, Santa Barbara hosted the event, bringing together students and mental health advocates from Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties.

The state’s new Youth Committee organized the event. It’s a panel of young people aged 15 to 25—from 12 different California counties. This year, California began putting a suicide hotline phone number on the back of student IDs. At the Idea Lab event, the students brainstormed ideas for improving the initiative's roll-out with more support and resources, besides coming with other ideas such as providing wellness centers and de-stress zones on campuses.

The students emphasized the need for inclusivity and de-stigmatization around mental health issues.

Representative Matthew Diep explained why he joined the state-wide effort:

“As a high schooler, I was struggling with depression and substance abuse and instead of getting the help that I needed often times I was getting punished in schools,“ Diep said.

Diep said the Youth Committee focused on bringing about positive changes for young people by encouraging their participation in the process.

“We really just started tackling the question of how can we get youth at the center of these discussions about mental health innovations and changing our outdated system,” Diep said

Suzanne Grimmesey from the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness said there is an important need for collaboration among youth and adult allies.

“One of my biggest take-aways is recognizing how needed it is to have not just one youth among adults giving an idea but to have a roomful of youth because they know what they’re talking about and they know what will work,” Grimmesey said.

The results of the Youth Innovation Labs will be made available to counties throughout the state. At that point, individual counties can decide if any of the youth-oriented ideas work for future plans and funding.

Editor's note: A sentence has been added to the third paragraph of this story to more accurately reflect how the State of California began adding a suicide hotline phone number to the back of student IDs in 2019. 

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.