As a junior at Redwood City’s Design Tech High School, Vladislav Morozov knows from experience teenagers are faced with a wide array of challenging situations, whether it’s working through homework or adjusting to a new school.
When Morozov began volunteering at a peer-to-peer Teen Chat Room provided by the San Carlos-based nonprofit StarVista some two years ago, he could relate to many of the situations teens logging into the chat room described. Trained to listen to and respond to teens struggling with stress or, in rare cases, crisis situations, Morozov said he’s learned many of his peers feel they don’t have someone to talk to, whether it’s about their day or a problem they are facing.
“To me, a normal answer would be I would go to my parents,” he said. “But in a lot of cases that is not an option, because either their parents don’t understand or they don’t care … that’s really surprised me, that that’s the situation in which so many people have to live.”
In offering resources like the Teen Chat Room, StarVista is aiming to help individuals across the county navigate issues that might lead to crisis or work through them when they happen. From driving under the influence programs to providing a place where homeless youth can stay, the family resource nonprofit’s services span the county at some 30 locations and are designed to meet clients where they are, said StarVista’s Chief Program Officer Stephanie Weisner.
“It’s really all stages and ages of a person’s life,” she said.
Weisner said the nonprofit’s wide array of programs have brought clients into the services StarVisa provides, but calling a suicide prevention hotline is one way many have been introduced to the nonprofit’s network of resources. Fielding 12,000 to 14,000 calls a year, those who volunteer for the hotline have helped callers describing suicidal thoughts as well as those concerned about a friend or family member’s behavior.
Weisner said San Mateo County has one of the highest suicide ideation rates in the state, meaning an increasing number of callers are telling volunteers they have thought about what ending their lives would look like. She added the numbers have been rising across age groups, with students as young as third-graders showing signs of depression and anxiety and senior citizens logging the highest rate of death by suicide.
What has been encouraging to Weisner and the nonprofit’s 215 staff members, though, is the rise in individuals reaching out with their own concerns or those about loved ones. She said StarVista has expanded outreach into schools to help students understand what challenges with mental health issues can feel like and how they can get help. To reach seniors and those for whom English is not their first language, she said staff members are also in touch with community and faith leaders and spread the word about its programs in community meetings.
From her work as a mental health clinician and program manager at StarVista’s Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center, Islam Hassanein knows how important it has been to reach those in need of support with mental health resources through channels they are accustomed to using. Having worked with school counselors and teachers to help students access mental health resources, Hassanein said a recent upgrade of the Teen Chat Room’s interface so it’s accessible to mobile phones has resulted in an uptick of teens using the service.
She added that by giving presentations on student stress, depression, anxiety and suicide prevention in schools and providing young people transitioning into adulthood with training on mental health issues, staff have noticed the stigma often associated with mental health issues has lessened.
“We’re noticing that the more that we’re able to talk about mental health — not that it’s easier to talk about — we’re starting to see more people come out in a sense and say, ‘I am struggling with this,’” she said.
For StarVista’s CEO Sara Larios Mitchell, helping their clients work through difficult situations or conditions is one of the most fulfilling parts about the nonprofit’s work. She acknowledged the work isn’t without its challenges, and that staff members practice self-care strategies to manage their workloads.
In the 12 years she’s worked with the nonprofit, Mitchell said she’s seen clients she’s worked with previously thriving in their communities months or years after they were able to access the resources they needed to move forward, a phenomenon that keeps her rooted in its work.
“You see a lot of pain but you also see people live the lives they want to lead,” she said. “It’s such an honor to hold people’s stories and help them.”
Visit star-vista.org for more information.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106