October is designated as National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, offering a reminder of the importance of mental and behavioral health services. While rates of depression and anxiety have increased across age groups, children and youth are experiencing some of the greatest challenges.

Young people increasingly report experiencing severe depression and anxiety. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in its Youth Risk Behavior survey that the number of adolescents reporting poor mental health increased from 2011 to 2021. In fact, the percentage of Black, Hispanic and White students who seriously considered attempting suicide increased by several percentage points during that period.

California follows the national trend, and the California Department of Public Health noted last month that suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults aged 15-24. Locally, Rady’s Children’s Hospital recently reported a 30 percent spike in children experiencing mental health crises.

While these statistics may make the situation seem daunting, there are many local leaders, advocates and nonprofit organizations addressing this issue and working together to provide mental and behavioral health resources to San Diego children, youth and families. Their tireless work deserves to be recognized.

Informed by these nonprofit partners and experts about the soaring demand for mental and behavioral health services, San Diego Foundation recognized the need to invest in the future of our region by increasing support for youth.

With the support of resources from San Diego Foundation’s discretionary funds, generous donors and other philanthropic organizations, San Diego Foundation aimed to increase support for these local efforts. In 2021, San Diego Foundation launched the Healthy Children & Families Initiative to support expanded access to critical services for children, youth and families in our region.

Since the launch of this program, more than $1.1 million has been granted to local nonprofits providing mental and behavioral health screenings, counseling and other services to more than 20,000 children and their families.

Multi-ethnic group celebrates when a member is successful

With a focus on supporting populations that disproportionately experience high rates of negative mental health impacts and low access to resources — like foster youth, families experiencing homelessness or incarceration, LGBTQIA+ youth and families of color — our nonprofit partners are making a difference in our community and in the lives of children and youth every day.

We have been fortunate to work with many partners who create opportunities for young people to engage with care that centers them and meets their needs.

One such partner is Mending Matters, a nonprofit organization that works to authentically engage youth, increase access to care and decrease stigma around mental health. It recently surveyed over 14,000 local young people to better understand what they want from services. Mending Matters looks to the individuals it serves to inform the way its services work, offering youth an empowering experience that is created by and for them.

All kids deserve access to services that are welcoming, supportive and inspiring of their trust. Making sure the youth that we serve feel seen and represented in the care they receive is critical to ensuring their engagement with services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, intersex, asexual, transgender or another non-heterosexual identity were significantly more likely than their peers to experience violence. Close to 70 percent experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and nearly 25 percent reported that they attempted suicide within the past year.

North County LGBTQ Resource Center provides culturally responsive and trauma-informed therapy practices for LGBTQIA+ children and their loved ones. Many mental health service clients have experienced violence, bullying, family rejection, homelessness and other traumas. The North County LGBTQ Resource Center team works to increase safety, family stability and well-being through therapy at low or no cost.

As we work together to ensure a resilient community where all children thrive and feel supported, these and other local nonprofit organizations provide the services that make this future possible.

This National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, I hope you will not only care for yourself and your own mental well-being, but also consider helping those in your community by volunteering, donating or advocating for more access to resources in San Diego County. Our children, youth and families can’t wait.

This article first appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune.