Acacia Spotlight: Mental Health Advocates

Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today.

Acacia does good work when the work includes those wanting to engage with our mission in new ways – to engage with our clients, our staff, and our community in new ways. Acacia Isla Vista (IV), under the guidance and dedication of Dr. Robbyn Jackson, IV’s Director, found just the right ingredient to introduce new engagement into their population, by bringing together twelve University of Santa Barbara (UCSB) students to become Mental Health Advocates (MHA) for their winter and spring quarters.

Dr. Robbyn began marketing Fall of 2018, with Kiana Parker, administrative assistant at Acacia, and Codee Hoecker, MHA intern from the previous year, to find students passionate about mental health and looking to integrate further into the community with Acacia.

Kiana: A goal that the three of us had was to make the internship a mutual relationship, having both parties benefit in some way from it. We wanted the internship to provide more a clinical experience for interns wanting to go into the helping profession. This type of experience is very difficult to find without a license so we wanted them to be able to utilize their experience in the internship to give them a leg up in applying for grad school.

MHA Interns hosting a Valentine’s Day carnation ROOTS fundraising event by UCSB’s campus. From left to right: Mia Ramos, Codee Hoecker, Maggie Yao, Katie Sabini, Molly Delzio

Kiana and Codee, both Lead MHA Internship Coordinators, took on the challenge to engage as much as they could, providing guidance and support. Each intern was involved in tabling for Acacia at events, fundraising for Acacia ROOTS (Acacia’s Student Therapy Fund), promoting suicide and depression prevention and awareness during lectures and organization meetings via the BLUES presentation, putting together individual or group passion projects, and working towards de-stigmatizing mental health in the community.

We reached out to three of this year’s MHA interns to speak on their experience: Katie Sabini, Codee Hoecker, and Yvette Ramirez.

What does it mean to be called a ‘Mental Health Advocate’?

Katie: To me, being a mental health advocate is about being a liaison between the clinical spaces and my fellow students. In my time at UCSB, I have known far too many students who do not know where to begin in terms of seeking and obtaining mental health services and being an advocate helps me connect them with resources. It also means being there physically, emotionally, and in any capacity I can for other students, whether it is something as simple as listening to someone or sitting in the waiting room with them.

Codee: To me, being a Mental Health Advocate is having an open mind, strong sense to help others of any cultural background, and a drive to change the stigma around mental health.

Yvette: To be a mental health advocate means to be willing and dedicated to talking about mental health to others who may not have access or be aware of the same resources as you. An advocate is continuously committed to learning more about mental health. In addition, it entails supporting those who show interest or choose to seek assistance in the mental health world in whatever form one may; whether it be through fundraisers, art, marketing, presentations, or any other project one may think of. Our Mental Health Advocate team at Acacia Counseling and Wellness is an encouraging team in a welcoming environment where we learn from each other and raise funds for other students to receive the mental health aid they need.

[Passion] is the activity that propels you out of bed in the morning and keeps you up late at night, something that fits into your daily life and really makes you feel like you have a greater purpose.

Say a student is interested in following up with being an advocate, what tips/advice would you give?

Katie: For anyone interested in becoming an advocate, my advice would be to reach out to anyone and everyone who’s profession interests you. In my experience, people in the helping professions are always elated to answer any questions you have about clinical work or resources. If there are programs at your school or in centers around your area I recommend reaching out to them too! It is never too early or too late to start and we always need more advocates!

Codee: Study the literature and have open, candid conversations with people who may be from a different background than yourself. We all experience our own struggles and I think it is most valuable to make personal connections with others in order to fully empathize with their situation and learn new perspectives.

Yvette: Apply for our Mental Health Advocate Internship! Be self-driven, respectful, and determined. It is important to be open to new or different ideas and perspectives at all times. Let us know what interests you in mental health! If you have a specific cause or event you’d like to see in the mental health field bring them with you to our team. Do not let this opportunity pass!

From left to right: Katie Sabini, Codee Hoecker, Mia Ramos, Christine Hoang, Maggie Yao, Molly Delzio

Part of your MHA internship included each intern working on a passion project, which included anything from a Sincerely, Not Okay* podcast on healthy relationships to helping organize an art therapy night. What does the word passion mean to you?

Katie: Passion is about finding something that you want to pursue continually. It is the activity that propels you out of bed in the morning and keeps you up late at night, something that fits into your daily life and really makes you feel like you have a greater purpose.

Codee: Passion means giving your whole heart, mind, and soul to something, not necessarily because you choose to, but because you feel an undeniable pull towards that thing.

Yvette: For me, the word passion refers to a desire so emotionally charged that even when you feel at your most defeated states, it gives you the motivation to continue. This desire includes continuously wanting to improve or learn more about your passion, which grows with time.

*The Sincerely, Not Okay podcast on healthy relationships led by Katie and another MHA intern, Molly Delzio, is available here.

Although my journey is not over, I find it further motivates my passion for the mental health field. Though there has been a shift in thought, our society has typically believed only physical aliments are included in our health; however, I believe to be “healthy” is to have an overall, well-rounded well-being, which I believe should be considered the norm.

A motivator behind the work you do is to break down the stigmatization that exist in and out of the mental health community which can include talking candidly about yourself. Working towards this and helping readers with similar goals – are you on a mental health journey?

Katie: I think that as humans we are on a mental health journey that never really ends. We are constantly evolving and becoming better versions of ourselves and that takes work. I personally struggled greatly with anxiety which flared up in my first years of college and that is something I am still working to better cope with and manage today. Mental health to me is about my mind body connection and overall well-being. Mental health is a unifying concept that every one can relate to in their own way, and that is why I find it so important to reduce the stigma and for everyone to recognize and help their own mental well-being. 

Codee: I encountered a traumatic situation just over two years ago and have been recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress [Disorder] ever since. Through the use of many therapists, I have slowly been able to gain back emotional stability and even grow from the experience. Although my journey is not over, I find it further motivates my passion for the mental health field. Though there has been a shift in thought, our society has typically believed only physical aliments are included in our health; however, I believe to be “healthy” is to have an overall, well-rounded well-being, which I believe should be considered the norm.

Yvette: Yes, I am on a mental health journey myself and it is important to me because I want to constantly work on being the best version of myself. I cannot be all that I want to be without acknowledging the needs of my mental health. More importantly, mental health is important to me because I observed a lack of education, awareness, and de-stigmatization in regards to mental health in underserved communities. I encourage people to recognize their mental health for liberation and empowerment. There is something about the process of self-discovery that allows one to find a bit of peace even during unpeaceful times.

You’ve done a lot in these last few months at Acacia and in the community. What’s next for you in the mental health world?

Katie: I am very happy to announce that I will be continuing my path with Acacia in the fall as a Lead Internship Coordinator as well as administrative assistant! I am excited to work further on projects that have been started and learn more about the business side of Acacia. Additionally, I am going into my final year of undergrad at UCSB and then plan to pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Codee: After graduating from UCSB this June, I plan on pursuing EMT training and work before continuing on to graduate school to become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.

Yvette: I will be at Acacia Counseling and Wellness in Isla Vista as a Lead Internship Coordinatior and administrative assistant. Meanwhile, I will be a continuing as a research assistant at UCSB under the Department of Education’s Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology (CNCSP) program; and am looking forward to attending the National Latinx Psychological Association (NLPA) Conference in October. In the fall, I will be applying to UCSB’s Chicanx Studies Honors program where I hope to conduct research tied to family systems and learned behaviors of adolescents in Latinx households. I have also started researching doctorate programs in clinical psychology as I hope to one day be of assistance to underserved populations, such as Latinx communities, as a licensed psychologist in the state of California.

Good work at Acacia continues with new Mental Health Advocacy internship opportunities arising this Fall, available for the first time in more than one Acacia location!

Special Thank Yous

Katie: A quick shout out to the internship program that is so amazing and I am so thankful for! I have learned so much about fundraising and the clinical field of psychology. […] My best advice or ‘words to the wise’ would be to never be scared to reach out for help. I know it took me much longer than I wish it would have, and had I reached out sooner it would have just propelled my pathway to positive mental health sooner. Don’t minimize your thoughts and feelings and always feel free to reach out to professionals, it cannot hurt to get another perspective!

Yvette: [Thank you to] Dr. Robbyn Jackson for providing endless support, understanding, and encouragement to the Mental Health Advocates (MHA) Internship team, Kiana Parker and Codee Hoecker who led and organized our internship team this past year, and all of the interns who volunteered their time and effort to raise awareness about mental health and the [Acacia] ROOTS: Student Therapy Fund. A special thank you for the opportunities Dr. Robbyn and the MHA team has provided and continues to provide me.

Stay tuned for more insights with Acacia Spotlight and comment below with any other topics or people you want us to cover.

Thank you to contributors Kiana Parker, Katie Sabini, Codee Hoecker, Yvette Ramirez, and all the MHA interns: Sejal Anuraji, Joanna Guan, Maggie Yao, Molly Delzio, Yackeline Casillas, Mia Ramos, Vi Schap, and Christine Hoang!

Author, KorbyQuan Reed

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