The Priority Center kicks off Mental Illness Awareness week

The Priority Center logo, which reads, "Ending the Cycle of Generational Trauma"
The Priority Center, formerly known as the Child Abuse Prevention Center, is providing free suicide and child abuse prevention resource information for those in need during National Mental Illness Awareness week.
(Courtesy of the Priority Center )

The Priority Center, a nonprofit working toward breaking the generational cycle of trauma, is kicking off Mental Illness Awareness week with free suicide- and child abuse-prevention resources.

The annual awareness week hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness is set for Oct. 4 through 10, and the focus is what people with mental illness want others to know.

The center is hosting a Zoom webinar “Understanding Trauma and the Wiring Effects on Brain and Mental Health” at noon Oct. 6. Guest speakers include the center’s Director and CEO Lisa Fujimoto, UCI professor and Director of Public Policy Al Valdez and mental health specialists.

The Santa Ana-based center has served all of Orange County since 1983. It was originally known as the Child Abuse Prevention Center but has broadened its programs to include adults.

“Orange County Health Care Agency asked if we would consider partnering with them because the need for adults in crisis was starting to really skyrocket,” Fujimoto said. “We were already doing the work with children and the county was shifting more into that side of a mental health focus.”

She also said about 80% of the programs still serve children. They are 10 programs ranging from school readiness, child-abuse services and in-home intervention services.

The organization serves individuals during a crisis, which could mean they are experiencing suicidal or homicidal ideation or are in danger of hospitalization or transitioning to an out-of-home placement. Most of the people the center works with are referrals from county agencies or hospitals — typically those who are brought to an emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation but may not meet the criteria for hospitalization or those transitioning back to their home setting.

District officials said the return Tuesday to in-person classes went smoothly. But teachers still negotiating with NMUSD over a reopening plan are seeking an injunction that, if approved, could reclose the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa campuses.

Julia De Almeida, associate supervisor of the children’s in-home crisis program, said summer is a slow time for the program.

“School presents a lot of stressors for our kids. When they’re out of school, we did see referrals go down. However, it has been pretty steady over the [past] summer and due to the pandemic,” De Almeida said. “I can attribute that to possibly the children feeling like they’re missing out over the summer — not being able to hang out with their friends, not being able to go on their vacation, having to isolate and social distance from schoolmates.”

The children’s in-home program, for ages 5 to 18 years old, assists the entire family. A case worker typically visits the family at home and provides parents strategies to manage their child’s behaviors or symptoms. After the short-term therapy program is completed, families can apply for the center’s post-crisis services through the Connected Care program.

Since the pandemic, all programs were switched to phone or video sessions. Fujimoto said people have started to reach out more to the center as the county has opened up more within the state’s red tier restrictions.

The center received about $200,000 from the CARES Act about two months ago and began providing rental and utility assistance, food, transportation and other basic needs to clients. They have until mid-December to distribute the money to clients adversely affected by COVID-19.

“Mental health is really being highlighted right now,” De Almeida said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about what the aftermath might look like as far as mental health and assessing for any sort of child abuse because children are spending so much time at home. We’re willing and ready to adapt whenever that transition happens again to any sort of normalcy and any possible peaks [in services] we might see.”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.