TC Lee, the father of a Gunn High School student who died by suicide in 2015, spoke to a full crowd at First Christian Church in Palo Alto on Sunday about mental health and his own path of recovery from loss and grief.
Lee described the role that parents and families, religion and awareness can play in helping a high-pressure community battle what he called an "invisible, non-physical" "enemy": mental illness.
While schools or other institutions can make improvements to support youth struggling with mental-health issues, wellness should begin at home, Lee said. He urged parents to be aware, to express their feelings to their children and make them feel accepted at home.
"Hug them. Say, 'I love you.' Right away. Today," he said.
"The safe haven, the safe harbor," he added, "is the family."
Parents should also praise their children "for who they are, not what you want them to be," Lee told the audience.
Lee also lamented a lack of support and resources in the area for families in crisis, saying it took two weeks and going outside of the family's insurance network to get his son an appointment with a psychiatrist.
This echoes other anecdotal stories shared over the past year-plus by Palo Alto teenagers and parents struggling to find quality and timely care in an impacted system. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) also recently released data showing that there is a severe shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists across California.
In Santa Clara County, there are a total of 87 child and adolescent psychiatrists -- a rate of about 20 mental-health professionals per 100,000 children, according to the AACAP.
Lee, who gave a similar talk previously at First Christian Church to a group of Mandarin-speaking community members, also spoke passionately about the role that faith and religion has played in his own grieving process.
He told the Weekly in a previous interview that he felt compelled to share his story to increase awareness about mental health.
"We are all in this together," he said Sunday night. "We should work together, united ... to fight that enemy."
VIDEO: To watch excerpts from the talk, click here.
Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal is urged to call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can also call 1-855-278-4204.
Links below provide more resources where one can receive help: