A local mental health resource organization, Mentis, is expanding its mental health resources with the help of funding from the Mental Health Services Act.|

Originally published in the Press Democrat on June 20th, 2024

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Every seventh grade classroom in the Napa Valley Unified School District will have the opportunity to learn about wellness and mental health resources available to them come August.

The classroom-wide expansion was possible after local mental health service organization Mentis gained funding from the 2004 Mental Health Services Act, which imposes a 1% income tax on some California residents to benefit mental health services in the state.

Napa County Health and Human Services, which allocates the funds from the local share of the statewide taxes, awarded $210,000 to Mentis to help fund three programs that target suicide prevention, youth wellness and aging adults.

Mentis, which provides early intervention services to Napa’s youth, will use some of the money to further sustain the Middle School Foundations of Wellness Initiative, which has provided a yearlong curriculum of wellness cafes for seventh graders in the Napa district since 2017.

A wellness cafe teaches students coping techniques, suicide prevention and provides access to additional resources.

“It really sets them up with knowledge of coping skills and other protective factors that booster their wellness and stability,” said Jeni Olsen, Mentis’ prevention director. “It also increases their awareness of resources available for them at their schools and in the community for themselves and their peers.”

Mentis currently offers wellness cafes at Redwood, Silverado, Unidos and American Canyon middle schools, along with Shearer and Browns Valley TK-8 School.

Napa Valley Independent Studies, the remaining NVUSD middle school, previously participated in the wellness cafes offered by Mentis but no longer does.

All together, about 1,100 seventh grade students participate in the organizations’ wellness cafes each year.

“We see this big jump in middle school of youth that start suffering from anxiety, depression and suicide ideation,” Olsen said. “So we really wanted to get them in that time of their life when we could really change those outcomes later on when they enter high school.”

A California Healthy Kids Survey found that 38% of seventh grade students in Napa Valley reported feeling chronically sad or hopeless in 2021, and 13% reported they considered attempting suicide. The anonymous survey allows schools to collect and analyze data regarding youth health risks and behaviors.

Funding from the Mental Health Services Act will also go toward hiring a full-time suicide prevention specialist for the community later this fall, as well as providing clinical services to low-income adults in Napa.

In March, California voters approved Proposition 1, which restructured the way Mental Health Services Act money was used for mental health services. Funding will no longer go toward prevention programs, but will now be used to create housing and treatments beds for homeless people instead.

“There’s still so many unknowns around Prop 1,” Olsen said. “But the changes will go into effect in 2026, so for the next few years we have really strong funding to grow and deliver and evaluate our programs.”