We Do It As A Team
A recent report by America’s Promise Alliance states that more than 1 in 4 youth ages 13-19 reported an increase in losing sleep because of worry, feeling unhappy or depressed, feeling constantly under strain, or experiencing a loss of confidence in themselves due to the pandemic.

East Bay Community Counseling Clinical Director Jessica Johnson confirms there has been a large influx of TAY youth (ages 14-24) being referred by Alameda County for mental health services. Johnson says her team is treating a lot of youth for general anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and PTSD. “The disruption to daily routines and sleep schedules coupled with extreme social isolation exacerbated existing mental health challenges for youth or created new ones,” she says. 

In addition to helping youth in the community through referrals from Alameda County, East Bay Community Counseling is also deeply embedded in Side by Side’s Real Alternatives and Our Space programs, offering an integrated approach to serve vulnerable youth who otherwise might not have access to these vital services. 

Real Alternatives has been providing transitional housing services to current and former foster and probation youth for over 20 years. Each youth who enters the program is provided with a clinical case manager and a youth specialist (a highly trained staff member who helps youth learn independent living skills such as how to budget, pay bills, cook, live with roommates, and maintain employment). In addition to this core team, it was clear early on that many Real Alternatives youth would greatly benefit from additional mental health services.
“That’s where Community Counseling comes into the picture,” explains East Bay Community Counseling Clinician Marisa Pereira. Pereira adds that when working with stigmatized populations, there is a lot of distrust of systems and providers. “That’s why it’s invaluable that our mental health services are embedded in these programs.”
Pereria provides the example of one youth who had been part of the Real Alternatives housing program for over 2 years before she felt ready to face her trauma and mental health issues. “It didn’t feel like going to a stranger for therapy, where she perceived she was going to be ‘analyzed.’ It just felt like ‘meeting with Marisa.’ The ability to internally refer skyrockets our effectiveness in serving this vulnerable population.”

A similar relationship exists with Side by Side’s Our Space LGBTQIA+ program. “It’s so hard for queer and trans youth to find counseling services with professionals specifically qualified to help them,” says Johnson, “so we strive to provide just that.” Johnson observes that youth in supportive housing may be less isolated because they have staff that are available to them, while queer and trans youth who are often estranged from family or not in supportive family environments suffer more from feelings of being alone.

Pereira believes this collaborative nature sets Side by Side apart. “Our agency as a whole understands the importance of teams all coming together to serve the youth in a collaborative, holistic approach.” One current client is struggling in his home environment. “Instead of simply offering emotional support to the youth, we met with our colleagues to brainstorm how to get the youth’s mother connected to services and support as well,” Johnson explains. “That youth won’t thrive if his unhealthy environment doesn’t change,” she says. “So we change the system, and we do it as a team.”