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By Orange County Supervisors Chairperson Lisa Bartlett
Mental health and wellness continues to be a major focal point in Orange County. Specifically in South Orange County, hospitalizations resulting from mental health and substance abuse issues continue to rise. Suicide attempts are one of the leading causes of hospitalizations.
Last month, I hosted a forum on children’s mental health with mental health professionals, parents and youth. My concern specifically focused on youth and teen suicide and the families struggling to find mental health resources before and after suicide attempts. Families and students shared how little information about resources is available. They also shared their experiences about not being well-equipped to recognize warning signs from their loved ones. Moreover, families and individuals suffer alone because of the stigma around suicide and seeking mental health treatments.
Suicide is the leading cause of non-natural death nationwide. In Orange County, teen suicides averaged 13.3 deaths per year over the past 10-year period, which is higher than the average of the rest of the state’s counties. National statistics indicate that roughly half of those who died by suicide never sought mental health care, yet an estimated 90 percent would have benefited from mental health care. There is so much more to say about this issue than these statistics.
Earlier this month, I led an effort at the Orange County Board of Supervisors to approve a $600,000 allocation toward the Orange County Suicide Prevention Initiative and support our community partners at Be Well Orange County, including the Ransom Foundation, Mission Foundation and Kay Warren of Saddleback Church. Be Well OC is a growing mental health and wellness movement bringing together public, private, academic, faith-based and other organizations to create a coordinated system of mental health care for all Orange County residents. Our goal is to improve the system as a whole, which includes increasing access to early intervention and prevention programs, in addition to high-quality care treatment options to address a growing crisis.
The goals of the initiative are to reduce stigma, ensure all residents know when to seek help for themselves or for their loved ones, and have clear information on where to turn if someone is experiencing a crisis. These goals address an overall consensus that existing prevention programs haven’t been coordinated and haven’t made enough of an impact. Because Be Well OC is a collaboration of community stakeholders, we will be able to maximize our efforts to make a bigger impact through strategic, coordinated and enhanced efforts.
I would like to express my thanks to my colleagues, health professionals and local community organizations for supporting mental health wellness. In Orange County, we always strive to provide the best opportunities to our residents so they can live safe, happy, healthy lives. Every life is valuable, and we cannot afford to lose another person to suicide. Through the collaboration with our county, Be Well OC and our community, we will bring hope back into the lives of those who need it most.
Lisa Bartlett is the chairperson of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. She was re-elected in 2018.