First Responders for Mental Health during Mental Health Awareness month of May

Vista del Mar Hospital raise awareness in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month.

by Carol Leish

Vista del Mar Hospital, in collaboration with the City of Port Hueneme and the Port Hueneme Police Department, have presented a countywide campaign to educate, fundraise, and raise awareness in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month.

Dan Powell, MA, MFT, BCBA, CEO of Vista del Mar Hospital, said, “We are proud to be a part of this initiative to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and to bring meaning to mental health awareness. Those (clients) in need come to a psychiatric hospital in time of crisis, but often depart in a much better place where they can begin to feel hopeful for the future.”

“During May (Mental Health Awareness Month), the main focus is raising awareness,” according to, Maya Lazos, Community Liaison at Vista del Mar Hospital. “Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-24 in the state of California, and the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-45 in the United States. We want our community to participate in free trainings in order to be educated about the alarming statistics regarding mental illness and suicide. Since so many suffer from mental illness and lose their lives by suicide, we want to help our community to become educated on how to help people in crisis and to become aware of the resources that are available within Ventura County.”

“We have been concerned about our First Responders for Mental Health, since while they have valiantly been taking care of others, we wondered who was taking care of them. More first responders die by suicide than they do in the line of duty. Thus, we chose First Responders for Mental Health as the focus of our initiative,” according to Lazos.

“The countywide Mental Health Month Campaign,” according to Lazos, “has included free trainings for first responders, community members and coaches. Trainings have addressed youth suicide within the community and within their own profession, since more firefighters and police officers die from suicide than in the line of duty. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression rates among police officers are five times higher than it is in the general population. A Community Cares Webinar has focused on recovery, wellness, and hope. The Coaches Assistance Program has provided education to ensure that coaches recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide. The campaign also has featured leaders and elected officials showing their support and connection to raising awareness.”

Andrew Sallinas, the Cirty of Port Hueneme’s Chief of Police said, “It is essential that my officers and first responders know how important it is to get the help that they need. And, nearly 25% of all calls for service in the City of Port Hueneme involve someone suffering from mental illness.” Salinas is the Honorary Co-Cahir of this year’s National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) walk. He also emphasized that, “Most importantly, we want those who have a mental illness to know that they are not alone, especially during these times of physical distancing. We want to fight the stigma, educate the public, and to advocate for all people with mental illness and their families, too.”

“Many things have happened as a result of this campaign,” according to Lazos. “First, every law enforcement agency in the county has come together within the communities that they serve to raise awareness and funds. The county has come together for a collaborative PSA that is being shared by all agencies involved. The First Responders Team to date has raised $60,000 for NAM, Ventura County. Government agencies around the county have lit up their building with green lights in honor of Mental Health Awareness. And, most importantly, 4 lives have been saved, and many have reached out for help.”

Lazos said, “Other first responders in Ventura County who weren’t able to join this year in the first annual First Responders’ Event, are looking forward to joining next year. This annual event will pave the way for change.”

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