As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are featuring two of the Healthcare Foundation’s Board members who are providing mental health services to the community: Danielle Restieaux and Michael Valdovinos.
Danielle splits her time between family mediation and social work on behalf of Sonoma County. While the mediation generally revolves around divorce, the social work enables her to provide therapy to adolescents, couples and adults with chronic issues. In particular, Restieaux helps people process and recover from experiencing severe trauma.
She notes that she has seen patients struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, and says the need for mental health services is greater now than ever before.
“COVID lockdowns have been such triggers for depression, suicidality, and abuse,” she says.
Restieaux says the last 14 months have been especially difficult for adolescents who are prone to depression.
“They have spent months being isolated,” she explains. “For a lot of them, their parents went to work so they literally were alone in the house all day. They couldn’t do the sports and other things that released energy and hormones. Everything that helped make their world fine got taken away from them and now they are picking up the pieces.”
She added that she has seen cases of child sexual abuse increase during the pandemic as well, since quarantines and shutdowns gave abusers greater access to children.
The Healdsburg resident says she joined the Healthcare Foundation board to help raise awareness of mental health in the community. Her goals: To train more mental health professionals locally instead of importing them from other places, and to help facilitate the hiring of more counselors at area schools.
“It has to start at the schools,” she says. “Kids need to be able to say, ‘I need help,’ and get it from local people who have ties to the community and are well-trained to provide the kind of help kids need.”
Michael, a native of Guerneville, comes to the world of mental health from a nontraditional path: the U.S. Air Force.
Today, Michael is one of the few licensed psychologists in the country who has earned board certification in behavioral and cognitive psychology. He has particular expertise in treatment of anxiety and trauma, teaching and coaching, and building health programs that often leverage technology.
“Dr. Mike,” as patients call him, also is one of the doctors participating in the UCSF/Sutter Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency, which is essentially a program that teaches aspiring doctors how to establish close bonds with members of the local community. He says mental health is a huge part of that program, especially considering how much the local Latinx population has been affected by COVID-19 and recent wildfires.
“So much of what I do is staying connected with the community and hearing from them how to help,” he says.
Michael spends at least half his time working in the local community, serving patients in clinics, and leveraging social media to raise awareness about the importance of wellness in all forms. He cites vaccine education as a recent success—through his involvement with La Familia Sana, an organization he co-founded, Michael got shots in the arms of more than 3,000 farmworkers.
This hands-on approach is one of the reasons why Michael joined the Healthcare Foundation board. He says he thinks the Foundation can make a real difference in the community—both by providing services and by funding them.
“It’s really hard for human beings to meet their basic needs without considering mental health,” he says. “This is a priority for the Healthcare Foundation, which means it will be a priority for us all.”
The impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—potentially stressful events or circumstances that occur during childhood and adolescence—can last throughout adulthood, and can even affect generations. They are among the most important health crises today yet many who are impacted remain unaware. Visit NumberStory.org, available both in English and Spanish, to explore the impacts of ACEs and other childhood adversity, find practical tools for healing and prevention, learn about the science behind these concepts, and access additional resources.