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Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

You might have noticed seeing a lot of green ribbons during the month of May. May was designated Mental Health Awareness Month by Mental Health America in 1949, to bring attention to the 18.1% of Americans who experience the diseases of mental health.

The majority of the 18.1% of Americans lead meaningful lives despite their mental health concerns. The green ribbon is the symbol of awareness, and I hope that when you see it, you might take time to reflect upon the need to educate ourselves with the hope of preventing the negative impact that stigma and discrimination have on positive outcomes.

Just like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, the diseases of mental health and addiction are caused by genetic, environmental, and biological influences.

However, we tend to be more afraid of talking about mental health, blame it on personal weakness, or insurance may not provide adequate coverage for treatment. As a society, we do not stress prevention for these diseases in the same way that we do for primary medical and dental care. Stigma and lack of screening result in worse outcomes and chronic mental health disease.

One of the reasons we founded the Wellness & Prevention Center (WPC) was to help young people and their families view mental well-being from a prevention lens. We do this through prevention education and advocacy for changes in service delivery.

Students at San Clemente High School show their support for Mental Health Awareness Month. Photo: Courtesy of the Wellness & Prevention Center

One in five young people has experienced negative mental health symptoms that have impacted their daily life. Sadly, only 25% of these youth receive the help they need.

We do know that early intervention while symptoms are mild leads to a greater chance that symptoms and more serious disease will not carry over into adulthood.

There are several reasons for this lack of care:

  • Stigma and the lack of understanding about the benefits of working with a mental health care provider
  • Lack of enforced parity laws for insurance coverage for mental health care
  • A shortage of mental health clinicians in Orange County
  • Lack of regular screenings for the signs and symptoms of the diseases of mental health

I suggest to all parents/guardians that you ask your pediatrician to complete a mental health screening at each year’s wellness check. Most pediatricians follow the American Academy of Pediatricians guidelines and are ready and willing to provide these screenings.

These screenings are equally as important as immunizations, dental checkups, healthy eating, and regular exercise.

Also, trust your gut. If you think something is wrong, or you observe a change in personality, falloff in participation in activities, or just sense something is off, consult with your primary care provider or a mental health provider (we are always happy to field your questions: info@wpc-oc.org).

The WPC provides prevention and treatment services on secondary school campuses in San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, and Aliso Viejo, via telehealth, and at our community clinic in San Clemente.

We provide prevention education through our BiMonthly eNews, virtual and live education events, and through our website, wpc-oc.org, and we partner with other mental health providers and youth-serving organizations to bring mental wellness resources to a larger audience.

We meet with youth in the community and at schools to help them gain knowledge about supporting their mental well-being and making healthy choices. I am encouraged by the openness of our young people to discuss stressors and challenges and how they support their mental health. 

Finally, we do not bill insurance for our service. We provide an open door to youth and their families to access care and support. We do this through grant funding and the generosity of individuals in our community.

Please consider visiting our Mental Health Awareness Month fundraising site and support our work with a fund-a-need, monthly donor subscription, or a silent auction bid. We appreciate your support.

Susan Parmelee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of the Wellness & Prevention Center: wpc-oc.org. She can be reached at susan@wpc-oc.org.

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