If there’s one thing that stands out about Rachael Steidl and her work as the Executive Director of YouthWell- it’s a sense of collaboration. Since its founding seven years ago, YouthWell has focused on bringing communities together around addressing youth mental health and ending the stigma or shame surrounding mental health challenges. Their mission has since grown and now extends to adolescents, young adults and their families across all of Santa Barbara County. YouthWell has a key aim to address early intervention and prevention measures, which helps guide their many programs and partnership networks.
One such partnership is the YouthWell Community Collaborative, which brings together more than 60 engaged community partners from CEOs, superintendents, school districts, law enforcement, and the medical community to discuss how they can create positive impacts to systems within the community in order to better serve families. In addition, YouthWell also hosts the Behavioral Health Linkages Team which consists of the front-line workers who connect people to services such as school counselors, resource navigators, probation officers, and local crisis lines. Together they work to create a cross-disciplinary community, where the teams can share challenges, educate each other about their services, and form solutions on how to improve their support to families.
A core component of intervention and prevention work rests in education and YouthWell’s programs are designed to help promote awareness and education around wellbeing. Rachael considers YouthWell’s work in schools their most impactful program addressing Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences because they are providing the community with information regarding wellness, relationship building, seeking services and accessing helplines. One educational resource YouthWell offers are quarterly workshops that deal with everyday issues that families and youth face, such as navigating mental health and body image, while also delving into the crisis end of the spectrum, such as eating disorders and suicidal ideation.
Rachael recounts the story of a teacher in Carpinteria who encouraged all of his students to attend an in-person workshop on substance abuse issues. Rachael was heartened by the teacher going above and beyond their job description by bringing his students physically together to form a sense of community. She describes it as a trickle effect with each person, each interaction building into a great collaborative learning space, creating a network of lasting change.
This summer, YouthWell also designed rack cards as an educational resource for youth and parents. These cards cover a wide array of important topics such as managing friendships and relationships, teaching youth how to reach out to helplines for themself or another, or how to reach out to a trusted adult during a crisis.
Additionally, one thing Rachael realized in her prior career working in family resourcing, is the need for easy access to resources and efficient delivery of services. At YouthWell, this idea took shape, becoming the very first mental health and wellness directory for youth and family resources in the county. The directory has over 200 organizations covering a wide variety of behavioral health and wellness needs, and can be found HERE.
Rachael has many important insights from her work, one being “as a community we need to spend more time listening.” She recounts times after working with youth, where parents would tell her that was the first time their child had felt seen and heard. It all stems back back to Rachael’s mission to treat each person individually, and ensure they aren’t just a checkbox on a mental health assessment. Rachael emphasizes the importance of preventing people from feeling invisible during a mental health challenge, especially as mental illness is known as a hidden illness and how challenging it can be for someone to reach out for help.
Within all of their important programs and partnerships, YouthWell strives to help build resilient, thriving communities. The amazing work being done is a testament to the collaboration of many people to create systems change. Rachael particularly points out her enjoyment of working with young people as she gets the opportunity to learn from them and hear new ideas. She notes that listening should also happen intergenerationally, “It’s a beautiful thing. The more we listen, the more it opens up conversation, it leads to the opportunity to collaborate, to learn from each other.”
Resource Directory: https://youthwell.org/business-directory/
Community Calendar: https://youthwell.org/events/
Tips for Navigating Resources: https://youthwell.org/blog
Resource Rack Cards: https://youthwell.org/materials/
Wellness Workshops: https://youthwell.org/workshops/
Community Collaborative Partners: https://youthwell.org/partners/
Author - Keilana Sugano