Mental Health Awareness Month: How Easterseals’ Services Support Mental Wellness

Mental Health Awareness Month: How Easterseals’ Services Support Mental Wellness

As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re taking a look at how Easterseals Southern California’s (ESSC) services support the mental health of our participants.  

Autism Therapy Services  

A African American Boy playing on a rock wall.

ESSC provides Autism Therapy Services to more than 10,000 people. As we continue to grow, we’ve expanded services and offerings to support children and adults with autism who may have severe behavioral health or mental health concerns.  

Under the Autism Services umbrella, ESSC recently launched START Crisis Support Services, which stands for Systemic, Therapeutic, Assessment, Resource, Treatment. This program supports individuals experiencing a crisis who have a history of a developmental disability and mental health concerns.   

Rick Gutierrez, Autism Services Vice President of Clinical Strategy, said, “This program is about improving the individual’s overall wellness. We want the people we serve to experience positive emotion, be engaged, and have meaning in their life.”   

Autism Services also offers Enhanced Care Management for people with autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities who have a mental health concern. In this program, clinicians work with a person’s system of support (the Regional Center, school, church, service provider, etc.) to ensure they are receiving the best support to achieve greater wellness.  

 Adult Day Services & Senior Day Services  

An Adult Day Service (ADS) participant sitting on the bus smiling at the camera with her thumb up.

ESSC’s Adult Day Services (ADS) offers support so individuals with developmental, physical, and/or cognitive disabilities can live independently. 

Through social interaction, learning new skills, and being part of a community, participants experience reduced isolation and loneliness, which increases their mental wellness. Similarly, Senior Day Services provide older adults with purpose and belonging through meaningful activities, socialization, and supportive services.  

There is data related to people having purpose each day; a reason to get up, groom, get out, and face the world. We see this every day in Adult Day Services and Senior Day Services,” said Kathleen Kolenda, Vice President of Adult Day Services. “People want to be engaged with others in person when they can and virtually as an alternative. Being with others inspires people to take care of themselves so that they don’t miss out on anything.”  

Another mental health benefit of these services is that they provide respite for family caregivers. Our day services allow caregivers the time they need to work during the day or care for themselves or other family members. Easterseals ADS staff are also knowledgeable of the mental health resources available through local community health agencies and can provide additional resources and support when needed.  

 Child Development Services  

Three kiddos from one of our Child Development Centers are in a colorful classroom smiling and giving a thumbs up to the camera.

At ESSC, our Child Development Services (CDS) serve children from birth to five years of age through Head Start, Early Head Start, daycare, mental health services, family support services, home-based support, and more.  

In addition to the benefits of early childhood education on children and their families, Easterseals CDS provides mental health support through a licensed Mental Health Consultant who is available for children, family, and staff.  

“Mental wellness is a very important part of the puzzle piece when it comes to early childhood development, which is why we are proud to provide additional mental health services for our families,” said Elizabeth Mulligan, Area Director of Child Development Services. “Education is so much more than learning your ABCs; it truly is about supporting the family so children can succeed at school and at home.”  

Employment Services   

A WorkFirst participant at his job at the Bird Shop feeding a Parrot.

ESSC’s Employment Services are dedicated to providing one-on-one, customized services for people with disabilities interested in finding and keeping meaningful work. The service discovers each person’s unique talents, interests, goals, and abilities, supporting them to find work that is meaningful, productive, financially rewarding, and life-affirming.  

There is data and research that proves employment is a critical mental health intervention, both for people with and without disabilities. Meaningful employment allows participants to experience purposeful living while fostering greater independence and self-reliance, which can lessen dependence on the mental health system over time.  

“In our employment services, we do work with many individuals that have mental health needs,” said Maureen Carasiti, Director, Employment Services. “In fact, all of our staff take an 8-hour mental health first aide class and do ongoing mental health trainings. We see first-hand that finding employment does absolutely have incredible value in the therapeutic sense to mental wellness and a sense of purpose for the individuals we serve.”  

 Living Options  

A Living Options participant at home with his Life Skills Coach giving him a high five.

ESSC provides a variety ofLiving Options to help people with disabilities live in their own homes and not institutions, as well as more independently in their local communities. From Independent Living Services to Residential Home Services and Supported Living, our program aims to ensure that people with disabilities can thrive in a comfortable and dignified home-based atmosphere.  

By providing safe and supportive living solutions and person-centered opportunities, individuals experience greater independence, which improves mental well-being. Living Options staff are also trained to recognize when physical and mental health needs of their participants arise so they can offer support and resources.  

Lupe Trevizo-Reinoso, Vice President of Living Options, said, “The participants we work with need support in all areas of their lives, and their mental health is critical to the success of them being able to live and work independently. We are very conscious that this is an area that can be missed while focusing on all other areas. Our staff do an incredible job working in a team approach to ensure their medical, physical, and mental health are all aligned and that our staff can support the participants in every capacity.”  

Supporting participants’ mental well-being is just one of the ways Easterseals Southern California leads the way to full diversity, equity, access, and inclusion for people with disabilities. These values are at the core of what make people feel like they belong in their communities, which creates a better world for us all.  

You can learn more about how our services have a positive impact on participants by visiting our Stories of Success section on our website 

About the Author:

Kelly Lapadula is the Digital Marketing Manager for Easterseals Southern California. In this role, she enjoys sharing stories that connect Easterseals' services with their local communities. While Kelly joined the Easterseals SoCal team in 2022, her history with the non-profit began in 2013, when she interned at the National office in Chicago. Kelly is thrilled to be back, working to increase awareness of the disability services Easterseals provides throughout Southern California.

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