My last column dealt with a friend’s son who had developed depression in grammar school. As he went to junior high, it worsened into major depression. He told his mother that life was getting worse if not dangerous. She spent much time finding help for him. After several months of treatment, he was able to go back home and is now in high school. Life is better, but he is still working to move forward.

The article showed examples of how confusing and difficult life is with depression, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), overwhelming anxiety and other mental problems. After Noozhawk printed it, several readers asked how to get treatment. This column offers possibilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse, drawing more families into crisis and deepening life problems. Without school and day programs, teen behavior frequently added the temptation to harm themselves, sometimes for the first time. General health problems can be recognized, but mental health tends to be overlooked. Depressed children tend to avoid hanging out with friends and family, no longer fully attend school, might live in a difficult family and often lose sleep or eat in unhealthy ways.

Santa Barbara County’s medical centers and school connections can find the mental and emotional health situations difficult to control and improve, but have possible options. Doctors, psychologists and counselors address these issues. Three examples in Santa Barbara include a local psychologist, a nonprofit child organization such as CALM (Child Abuse Listening and Mediation), and a specialist in the general school system.

Dr. Paul Meisel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, mentioned that medications can help and seem easy, but they are not necessarily the answer for the 20% of teens and children with mental health issues. There are other ways to check such situations.

“A good number of teachers have these kids every day and become aware when one changes his or her behavior and starts to misbehave,” Msisel said. “Teachers often communicate in a friendly way with the child’s mom or caregiver: ‘He didn’t seem like himself today.’ Educators tend to look for what’s behind it and what causes such symptoms.”

Then more questions come up. Meisel points out that parents, friends and/or teachers usually begin to understand.

“There are additional problems such as staying aware and levels of activity,” he said. “Some see it as ADHD instead of saying, ‘My child is having problems paying attention.’ You can be diverted if someone is sick and having family trouble. The question might be, ‘What is possible?’ If you ask that, you may find out what is complicated but what makes it important to move ahead.”

CALM has a major goal for children: “Prevent childhood trauma, heal children and families, and build resilient communities throughout Santa Barbara County.”

Adolfo Garcia, director of clinical operations, has been a longtime and highly effective member. He oversees throughout the county and works with the large number of CALM’s therapists. He communicates with children who are going through trauma and gets them to consider different coping skills, a special way of dealing with them.

“There are many different factors and biological problems. We have interests in those experiences,” Garcia said. “The pressure is what schools, family and friends will do for these teenagers. Family history, especially in young parents, may have abused and neglected the children. Sometimes it’s not necessarily related to major depression, but can be caused by family history and abuse.

“When working with kids, I saw natural changes more reactive and found some answers. ‘When things are done and happen, it is perceived better if we’re face-to-face.’ You need to know this is at the moment with many things still changing such as eating and sleeping patterns. Kids who’ve been bullied often have higher incidents of depression that causes irritability and/or anger. We look for ways to ease the trauma and help kids move on.”

The third important way of getting help for children and teenagers is through the schools and community. Each school gets assigned for connections with a school psychologist who deals with psychological, behavioral, social and emotional needs of children. I talked informally with a school psychologist who has worked throughout the county for many years, and she explained what is available.

“Resources such as SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area) can provide oversight to the schools and county. They work with mental health issues, including help outside the home and whom to talk with,” she said. “You can check the website or a phone call [check numbers below] to find resources or referrals offering help in Spanish and English, online or on the phone. They show services that are available from individual counseling through those with behavioral difficulty. We often talk about more crises or detailed situations and work to help you walk and perhaps find resources within schools and beyond.”

She also pointed out that every school’s psychologist can talk to anyone and can work to find help for a child or teenager through a number of possibilities.

All these people have strong interests and concerns to benefit children, teens and adults who are suffering. If you talk with such active and knowledgeable people, they can advise you on ways to arrange help for a number of health issues and topics.

For more information, call 211 or call the numbers below:

» Dr. Paul Meisel: 805.965.1913

» CALM’s Adolfo Garcia: 805.259.7907

» Alison Lindsey, a mental health specialist with SBC SELPA, was recommended as someone who offers great service and can guide ways to find help. Her phone number is 805.683.1424.

Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.