Didi Hirsch evolves mental health services in L.A. County, growing access to youth and families

Mental illness is not only for adults. In fact, three out of four people with mental illness will receive a diagnosis by age 24.

Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a nonprofit agency that helps over 90,000 children and adults from 11 sites and nearly 100 schools each year, has several programs that help teens and young adults with mental illness and substance use disorder. They include outpatient programs, a youth substance abuse program, school-based services and a “Birth-to-Five” program.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24,” said Dr. Kita S. Curry, President and CEO of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services. “We can save a lot of lives by making sure young people with depression and other mental health conditions get the help they need.”

Research shows early diagnosis and appropriate services for children and their families can make a significant difference in the lives of children with mental disorders. Antonio G., 16, who started receiving mental health services at Didi Hirsch when he was eight years old, illustrates how.

Antonio began displaying symptoms of severe anxiety when he was six years old. The anxiety kept him from sleeping in his own room, attending school and participating in family activities. Even basic hygiene was a problem, since he was fearful of taking a shower.

Antonio’s school referred him and his family to Didi Hirsch, where they began receiving individual therapy, family therapy, case management and psychiatric services. Although Antonio and his family received help at a Didi Hirsch outpatient clinic, Didi Hirsch counselors are also posted at nearly 100 schools throughout Los Angeles County so students can receive vital mental health care services even if their parents are unable to take off work or have no way to transport them to a clinic.

Today, Antonio still experiences symptoms of mental illness, but now has tools to cope.

“My anxiety has gone really down,” he said. “It used to hold me back, but now I’m able to do stuff that I couldn’t before like speak up in class, talk to new people, and join in activities like the youth group.”

With just a phone call, intake counselors and licensed program coordinators can assess a family’s needs, schedule an intake appointment and provide referrals for community resources.

Therapists work with children and teens experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties and provide support, crisis intervention and evidence-based mental health treatment to help students be successful at school, home and in the community.

Teens can also get help from Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Prevention Crisis Line, which is open 24/7 in English and Spanish, or from its Crisis Chat services, which is available every day from 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Didi Hirsch also answers calls and chats for the TeenLine during the 20 hours a day when trained teens are unavailable to take calls.

Didi Hirsch’s “Birth-to-Five” program focuses treatment on new mothers suffering from depression, young toddlers who excessively tantrum, and kids who exhibit especially aggressive behaviors.

“All families are on a journey,” says Lisa Schumacher, program director of Didi Hisrch’s Mar Vista Center. “Sometimes rocks are on the path that we can move ourselves, and sometimes we need help to move the rocks – they are just too big. When families come across those large boulders, Didi Hirsch is there to offer suggestions, support or resources.”

Didi Hirsch primarily relies on Medi-Cal to pay for services, but has some funds to support the uninsured. To learn more about how to access services from Didi Hirsch, individuals can call (888) 807-7250 or visit http://www.didihirsch.org.