By Elisa Rocha Bupara
The young people who came together for the first time March 24 to learn more about the administrative side of their mission, appeared ready, willing and able to roll up their sleeves and begin working to help transform the mental health system for young people in California.
Although they met for the first time, they displayed camaraderie and compassion as well as a keen understanding of the issues young people face in accessing mental health services. More importantly, they showed their passion for finding new and creative ways to change the system.
“I’ve had my own experiences with mental health since I was in fourth grade,” one committee member said. “I’m happy to say I now have my Masters. I lead a support group. I answer phone calls to a help line. I’m very happy to be a part of future planning for services I desperately needed when I was younger.”
Eleven transition age youth attended the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission’s Youth Innovation Project Planning Committee meeting in Oakland and two others called in via telephone. The Committee members were selected from hundreds of applicants from across the state. They include: Juan Acosta, Michel’le Bailey, Marisol Beas, Matthew Diep, Gabriel Garcia, Kylene Hashimoto, Kalyn Jones, Megan Larson, Samskruthi Madireddy, Jeanavy Perez, Courtney Potts, Carina Romero, Amanda Simon, Celeste Walley and Irene Wei.
“I’m really excited about this Committee and us uniting to really change how California serves youth,” said Commission and Youth Committee Chair Khatera Tamplen, who led the meeting. “The best way for change to happen is for you to share what you want and for you to lead the way for all of us.”
The youth Committee convened because the Commission wanted to ensure youth voices were included in any discussions about youth mental health.
“It was your voice that got this project started and I want you to remember the power and impact of your voice,” Tamplen added. “We can make a better California for youth.”
Commission staff led by Project Lead Shannon Tarter, Sharmil Shah, Angela Brand and Anna Naify presented information about the Commission, the Innovation Project, the Mental Health Services Act, travel requirements, Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Law and other orientation topics.
The Committee’s charge is to find innovative ways to help youth access the services they need. The Committee members talked about their passion for transforming the mental health system to better address the needs of young people.
“Dance is a big passion of mine,” said Matthew Diep from Los Angeles County. “We use hip hop dance to teach about mental health and I’m really interested to see how we can innovate in the arts to make an impact in the field of mental health to make it a lot more cool and engaging and not so boring and scary.”
Other committee members described the effects of trauma, anxiety and stigma on youth mental health. Some spoke about their own experiences and their motivation and desire to help others.
“I am currently a student at USC and very passionate about mental health,” said Carina Romero, who attended via telephone. “I came from working with Monterey County Probation and I want to get back to working with and providing mental health services to incarcerated youth. If it means that we are fighting a constant battle, then we must fight through it.”
After a day spent on training for their new roles, Committee members said they are ready to start working.
“It was really inspiring for me especially being the youngest person here,” said Samskruthi Madireddy. “It was really interesting to see everyone else’s experiences. Being a part of this has really inspired me. As we move forward with this project, it’s going to be great knowing that I contributed to this effort.”
Celeste Walley applauded the diversity of the Committee. “I was really surprised at the amount of diversity that we have in the Committee,” Celeste said. “I don’t mean just in the counties that we come from but the identities that we hold and the different things we want to bring to the group.”
Irene Wei said she had been interested in mental health since she was in high school. “I feel like I’m very helpful and very optimistic,” she said. “I want to show that there’s a lot of resiliency in our community and we can always move forward and hope for a better tomorrow.”