Stemming Santa Barbara’s Mental Health Crisis
Mariela Marin gets anxious any time they look at the waitlist of people seeking mental health services. On a typical day, their team of 19 therapists at the Community Counseling and Education Center will provide critical counseling, support groups, workshops, and classes to as many as 45 people.
But Marin, the center’s executive director, also knows that another 80 people won’t get served.
“It’s so disappointing,” they say. “When folks reach out for support and you put them on the waiting list, you miss an opportunity because they were brave enough to come for support.”
It wasn’t always this way. In 2017, when Marin joined the venerable organization founded 37 years ago by Patricia Cooper and Jaclyn Henretig, the Center could steadily move people into therapy. So what changed? Santa Barbara is now grappling with skyrocketing rates of mental illness that so many communities are experiencing.
The Center has tried to catch up, redoubling its efforts as a vital safety net for the community’s most vulnerable. Some are people who have fallen into precarious situations like homelessness or suffered the loss of a job or of a loved one. Some are coping with substance abuse. Others suffer from serious neurological disorders like severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The pandemic and its long-lasting fallout has only magnified the scale of the problem.
“For some folks the pandemic put them into real, practical places of insecurity, including the loss of support networks that they thought were steady but ended up not being steady,” Marin says.
Today, the Center is focused on expanding its counseling services so that no one who needs mental health support gets turned away. The typical counseling session costs $95 for 50 minutes. Marin says that 98 percent of the Center’s clients are paying $30 or less. That means grants and donations are crucial to keep alive a counseling program that supports people who are already struggling with other issues.
“Everybody deserves support and deserves to have a space to be seen and heard,” Marin says. “Folks already have enough difficult decisions to make, they shouldn’t have to make a decision between, ‘Do I eat today, do I buy my kids those shoes for school, or do I actually work on this anger that could cause more harm to my kids?’”
Executive Director: Mariela Marin
For over 33 years, CCEC’s mission has been to provide low-cost counseling to the Santa Barbara community by matching incoming clients to highly skilled trainee and associate therapists in our Clinical Training Program. The work that we do at CCEC attracts the area’s top graduate students and graduate associates, who are guided and advised by some of the most sought-after licensed clinical staff on the Central Coast.
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Therapy always seemed a luxury for someone other than me, someone that doesn’t live paycheck to paycheck, but I got lucky and found CCEC. Here, I was able to do meaningful work without the added pressure of being financially broken. Most importantly though, I found a place that accepted me for who I am. I found a therapist that cared about what happened to me, how I could heal, and genuinely walked with me on the path I was on.
One Day at a Time
In 2021 and 2022, the Community Counseling and Education Center stepped up its fundraising efforts to address Santa Barbara’s intensifying mental illness crisis. “Our priority this year is to make sure that we are not in a position to cut people off from services and to continue to expand the number of therapists that can see clients so we can address that waitlist,” says Executive Director Mariela Marin. The Center launched a capital campaign called One Day, which encourages donors to contribute just one day’s wages (the equivalent of 0.38% of an entire year). The initiative sends a resounding message that almost anyone has the ability to provide support to struggling members of the community. As Marin says, “It puts a frame around what it means to just give up one day for your community and for people that you care about and how easy that can be.”
Margo and Jeff Barbakow
Anne and Eric Phillips
Brittingham Family Foundation
Crawford Idema Family Foundation
Latkin Charitable Trust
Strickland Family Foundation
Peggy Dodds and Marty Walker
Rob and Vikki Hunt
Greg de Roulhac