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More than 100 people gather to discuss concerns, solutions for mental health needs in Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz Sentinel - 8/27/2017

Aug. 27--APTOS -- A gathering of mental-health professionals and volunteers Saturday at Twin Lakes Church raised the question: Can this community better serve people who have mental-health needs.

The answer, a resounding yes, was raised by panelists during the gathering of more than 100 people who attended workshops and sessions on mental health awareness and education.

Carol Williamson, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Santa Cruz County, said there are growing needs for services.

"More grows out of more," she said, adding that she hopes the alliance can grow with rising needs.

Erik Riera, the county's mental health chief, said Santa Cruz County received a federal and state grant of $21 million to be spent the next four years to provide up to 1,000 people with access to housing support and case-management services.

Ingrid Trejo, the regional site director of Central Coast for the Veterans Resource Centers of America, said veterans are an important component of the local community with mental-health needs.

Imagine, you're 18 years old and you're going to join this outfit, you're given a gun and you see some "really gnarly things," Trejo said. That's the reality many veterans have lived, she said. Those veterans are trained not to cry or reveal the emotions they may experience from such experiences.

The Veterans Resource Centers of America, she said, provides financial and other forms of assistance, even providing proper clothes for a job interview, Trejo said.

"Imagine looking for a rental in Santa Cruz," Trejo said. "Couple that with mental illness."

Hugh McCormick, an intern at the publication Good Times and a UC Santa Cruz student, has lived with mental illness and has volunteered helping others with such conditions for nearly a decade.

He said there are too many patients at local recovery centers, "they're over medicated and they're hopeless."

Before the panelists spoke, a group of booths were set up at the church lobby with information about the variety of services.

"It's hard. It's not a simple solution," said George Carvalho, a patient-rights advocate.

Watsonville Police Department mental health liaison Reina Valencia said a team of two, Valencia and master officer Angel Calderon, work 40 hours weekly to respond to calls known as 5150s, or calls with a mental health-related concern. The partners serve the department's CARE unit, which stands for Crisis Assessment Response and Engagement.

Valencia said the work consists of crisis intervention.

"We respond to crises, any type of crises," Calderon said. "We link people with resources and there are a lot of resources."


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