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In-Depth Special Report: Youth and Mental Health

We are continuing to take an in-depth look at mental health help in the desert. May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  

I-team reporter Karen Devine wanted to find out how the youth in the valley are coping while navigating the changes and challenges of the pandemic. And, to find out what resources are provided.

“Everything is so difficult now, especially with the pandemic, social anxiety has increased it’s actually been more difficult for students to come on to campus and learn,” said La Quinta High School Senior, Amaya.

Amaya and Samantha, upperclassmen at La Quinta High School are part of a newly formed club on campus that aims to make sure students have a safe environment to be heard. The club is called, "Peer Support," and it’s run out of the Medical Health Academy.

“Suicide rates have gone up, depression has gone up and it really impacts us and we just want to make sure everyone has a safe space to go to,” said Samantha.     

This program is just one of many offerings within Desert Sands Unified School District. There are different resources depending on certain needs.

“You’ll see at different sites, you’ll see more anxiety groups, more grief groups, or more self-esteem or social skills, so it’s really based on the specific need of the site,” said Sue Ann Blach, Mental Health Services, Desert Sands Unified School District.     

Blach says information from social-emotional learning lessons from the elementary, middle and high school levels shows the pandemic has had a definite impact on mental health. “We’ve seen an increase in anxiety, depression, and grief, we’ve also seen some changes and disruptions in sleep and also increased electronic exposure,” said Blach.

According to the CDC, teenage depression and anxiety is not uncommon but the pandemic has introduced other stressors. Remote learning, social isolation, the economic burdens on families, and the loss of a family member to COVID, have worsened existing mental health challenges. Blach says more students at all grade levels are asking for help.

“I think we’ve seen an increase in referrals because one is we have wellness providers that know hot to identify it. So, when we know how to identify it, then we can make that referral. And, number two, because we’ve done more social-emotional wellness promotion, it’s okay for students to be able to say, hey, I may need to talk to somebody about this.”    

But what about the younger kids. Kids who are undergoing trauma at home, how do they get help?     

The De Leon/Arambula Family faced some tough times in the past year. The family of five dealt with boh parents' drug addiction, an arrest and the three young boys were taken by Child Protective Services and put into foster care.  

While mom and dad were in separate rehab facilities, they were referred to Olive Crest, a local organization that helps give mental health services to the entire family on an individual basis.

“Since the program has come into our lives, you can see they have opened up a lot. They’re more outgoing, they’re more talkative. They’re not so closed off as before,” said Christopher De Leon, Father of three boys getting help from Olive Crest.     

While mom and dad were working on their sobriety, the three boys ages 10, 9, and 2 were getting the counseling and mental help they needed through Olive Crest’s wrap-around program which addresses and involves the entire family’s issues with individual attention.

“They’re doing tremendous in school, again this program helped out so much because they don’t only work with you inside your home and with you as a family, but they also go to the school and interact with the teachers and sit in the class with the kids. So, this program does wonders,” said Britney Arambula, Mother of three boys getting help from Olive Crest.    

Olive Crest, provides hope and healing for children who have suffered from abuse and neglect. And, while they try to accommodate the needs of children and families in the valley, a recent opening of a new clinic proves there's high demand for services.

“In the last how many months that we’ve just been opened, we’ve already hit capacity. So, we do know that there is a need for mental health services out in the valley,” said Rhonna Tan, Mental Health Director, Olive Crest.   

Mental health professionals at all three school districts and Olive Crest say more people including kids and teens are seeking professional help.

“I think the more that we can talk about these issues publicly, I think the more likely we’ll be able to break down that stigma and people will be more willing to provide the services that are needed,” Kelly Duguay, Program Director, Olive Crest

Mental Health Resources for Our Three Local School Districts:

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Karen Devine

Karen Devine is celebrating her 29th year delivering the local news as an anchor and reporter in the Palm Springs television market. Learn more about Karen here.

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