A new program to help residents navigate Santa Clara County's mental health system, including public and private resources, is being developed by the county.
On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to direct staff to create a new program designed to help those who encounter barriers to access when seeking mental health support for themselves or their loved ones.
"People who need mental health help for themselves, a friend or a family member are already in a world of hurt," wrote Supervisor Joe Simitian, who proposed the idea. "Then they have to confront a 'system' that's complicated, confusing, and bureaucratic. What I hear too often is that folks really need a guide."
Simitian said he calls it a "navigator" that would help residents "find the right path to treatment, and then stay on it."
More than 40,000 people accessed the county's behavioral health system in the last year, according to Simitian's office.
About 4,500 of those accessed the county's addiction and substance use services — a 13% increase from the previous year.
The demand for services was heightened during the pandemic from both existing patients and new ones, with the stress of the pandemic exacerbating substance use disorders for many, according to a March 2021 report published by the American Psychological Association.
But Simitian said the need for a mental health navigator predates the pandemic.
"Even before the pandemic, demand for mental health and substance use services was high," said Simitian. "The pandemic — with its resulting isolation and economic consequences — has intensified these challenges."
In Santa Clara County, more than 30,000 people struggle with serious mental health conditions, county data showed. And in the last year, the county's behavioral health system referred about 24,000 people to the county's nonprofit partners.
So, the navigator will work with those nonprofit partners and the county to better connect patients to the most appropriate resources for them and their families.
The program can find local resources for residents, with the ability to even connect them to private resources when appropriate. It also will provide support and troubleshooting if the first referral doesn't work out well.
"By guiding patients through and around barriers, we can help them get the treatment they need so they can get their lives back on track," Simitian said.
The proposal has received support from Asian Americans for Community Involvement, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, Behavioral Health Contractors' Association and Momentum for Health.