Orange County Launches New Mental Health Outreach Program

August 14, 2020 Updated: August 14, 2020

California’s Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) launched a new mental health outreach campaign on Aug. 13 as part of an effort to support and improve community well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “What You Feel Is Real” program encourages people who are emotionally impacted by COVID-19 to seek support by providing free telephonic and telehealth services, as well as educational resources, to Orange County residents. The services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“One’s mental health should never be put on the back burner, especially during a pandemic. I’m hopeful that the ‘What You Feel Is Real’ program will be very helpful to our county residents,” said Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel during a press conference to introduce the program.

Dr. Jeffrey Nagel, OCHCA director of behavioral health services, said during the press conference that the county has seen a nearly 50 percent spike in call volume to its confidential National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) telephone hotline since the pandemic took hold in March, and that around 20 percent of the counseling calls are COVID-related.

“We want to ensure that the community knows about available mental health supports and resources and how to access them,” Nagel said.

He added that the agency had spent years transitioning from in-person to virtual services—but COVID-19 accelerated the process in a matter of months. The county’s telehealth staff is equipped with laptops that have cameras and speakers, so they can communicate one-on-one with needy residents struggling amid the pandemic.

Marshall Moncrief, CEO of behavioral health group Mind OC, encouraged residents to take advantage of the new services available to them. “We want you to reach out. We want you to seek support,” he said.

An advertising campaign in different languages will be launched in newspapers, transit shelters, digital platforms, and on social media platforms to promote the new program. The ads will offer direct links to phone numbers and resources available to the community.

The OCHCA also created a digital toolkit to help community members spread the message. The toolkit provides a script for talking to a person or group, short paragraphs to include in newsletters or e-blasts, and social media posts available to share on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

In an Aug. 13 press release, all five county supervisors—Donald Wagner, Lisa Bartlett, Andrew Do, Doug Chaffee, and Steel—threw their support behind the initiative.

“Good mental and physical health is important for everyone,” said Wagner in the release. “If you face a silent struggle, you don’t have to go it alone. There are supportive County resources that offer help and hope.”

Supervisor Bartlett said, “The campaign does an excellent job of reminding the community that they are not alone. By taking the first step and reaching out for help, we can all be stronger and healthier together during these unprecedented times.”