Finding Mental Health Services in San Juan

Winter can be tough on mental health, with feelings of loneliness or isolation. On an island, these feelings can become more pronounced.

Jennifer Armstrong of the Joyce L. Sobel Family Resource Center helps connect Islanders to mental health care that’s right for them.

“Behavioral health support is important no matter where someone lives. It’s an essential part of personal care that impacts people’s overall health and well-being,” she said.

The three Family Resource Centers located on the island of San Juan, Orcas and Lopez offer the Community Wellness Program. It’s funded by San Juan County and provides access to low-cost, income-based counseling for residents who don’t have health insurance or pay for private insurance with a high deductible. They have been providing this service for 15 years. For more information, visit https://www.lifrc.org/, https://sjifrc.org/ or https://orcascrc.org/.

The CWP has income eligibility requirements, but if one does not meet these requirements, those at the Family Resource Center will help find an alternative. Services are offered in person and online, depending on people’s preferences. The CWP covers between 12 and 18 sessions, depending on individual circumstances.

Compass Health also offers a wide range of behavioral health support programs for county residents. With a team of mental health and addiction treatment professionals based in San Juan County, Compass Health has expanded service capacity across the islands to meet the behavioral health needs of community members. Additionally, new grants from local organizations ensure student access to counseling services through school-based telehealth programs and provide mental health first aid training for youth. For referral information, contact the Compass Health Access Team at 844-822-7609 or contact the Friday Harbor office at 360-378-2669.

Longtime Lopez resident Alex Forster is one of many who decided to take advantage of the CWP by finding an affordable therapist on the island. Without an insurance plan, he said the resource center was more than accommodating in helping him find what he was looking for. He said his decision and experience so far has been very fruitful and rewarding.

“It gives me a sense of emotional stability and that I’m doing something for myself,” he said.

Forster said it took years before he decided to go to therapy. He was pleasantly surprised at how seamless the process of finding an affordable therapist on the island was for him.

He says he felt a great improvement in his daily life. In speaking with a therapist, he expressed that he brought things to the fore that were buried and did not realize they were a source of his anxiety. Now, he said he feels less anxiety on a daily basis. The structure of having a scheduled date and time to speak also kept him focused the rest of the day. Forster compares the therapy process to physical therapy.

“You have a joint that makes you want to identify why it hurts because you don’t want to hurt,” he said.

He plans to continue therapy for years and tries to advocate for others to take care of their mental health as well.

“With the myriad of long-term stressors that everyone has endured over the past two years, engaging with a trained behavioral health care provider is a smart and necessary part of maintaining personal health and productivity. if life starts to feel overwhelming,” Armstrong said. “We are here for all members of the community, even if people are unsure if the FRC has a specific service, please call and we will be happy to work to find the appropriate resources. Our services are confidential and we have staff available to speak with people in English and Spanish.

About Evelyn C. Heim

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