Education & Programs

“I encourage everybody to spend a few moments educating themselves and learning more about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, by doing so you could help save a life and it could even be your own.” ~ Dr. Neal Houston

Words like stigma and isolate divide people. If we are all to grow stronger and healthier and our community is to become a place where we can get help when we need it, we can’t let these words stop us. We must unite with a common language about basic ideas to make us healthier. The Mental Wellness Center meets this challenge with mental health education.

In addition to offerings for the general public, we have education geared to people’s specific needs. These services are summarized and grouped below by audience. For more information, click on Family, Youth, or Adult Services .

Community Wellness Program

When “I” is replaced by “We”, even illness becomes wellness.

Mental wellness is an issue that affects us all; therefore, education and support should be available to the whole community. The Community Wellness Program welcomes everyone to participate in courses to learn how to get well and stay well. The Community Wellness Program is open to Santa Barbara County residents, 16 years and older (parental consent is required for those under 18). We offer a range of free and/or low-cost activities incorporating support, awareness, and understanding in a safe space of healing. The classes and activities listed below do not require pre-registration, and drop-ins are welcome. Come join us!

Activities for community audiences

  • Spanish Family Support Group – conducted in Spanish and meeting once per week for people living with serious mental illness and adult family members. (contact to verify)
  • Education Family Discussion Group - features new topics weekly.
  • Family Support Group – weekly information and support for family caregivers of adult children.
  • Depression & Bipolar Support Group -  a peer-run support group where people with mood disorders find comfort and direction in a confidential and supportive setting. Walk-ins welcome!
  • Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is an evidence-based, self-directed prevention class that teaches tools for staying well.
  • Hearing Voices: A peer support group based firmly on an ethos of self-help, mutual respect and empathy. Facilitated by Catherine Birtalan.

Activities for young adults and their families:

  • Support for Parents of Teens (SPOT) – information and support shared by parents of teenagers and young adults with anxiety or depression. Please join us by calling our Family Advocate, Ramona Winner, at 805-884-8440 or emailing
  • Keeping Connected - For youth ages 14-18 to learn to better manage emotions and reactions in a fun, safe space. Facilitated by Isis Casteñeda.

Activities for Service Providers

  • Lunch and Learns – brief opportunities for busy professionals to learn more about hot topics in mental health.

View the Community Wellness Program Calendar and the Events Page for up-to-date activities of the Community Wellness Program or other Community Events offered by the Mental Wellness Center.

Family Services

For family and friend caregivers of people living with serious mental illness.

  • Family Advocate support
  • Family-to-Family Course
  • NAMI education and support groups
  • Family Support Group in Spanish

For parents and caregivers of teenagers and young adults. Special consideration is given to coping with early symptoms and addressing the developmental needs of young people transitioning to adulthood.

  • Support for Parents of Teens (SPOT) group

Youth Services

For teenagers and young adults.

  • Keeping Connected Teen Group
  • Mental Health Matters (taught in schools only)
  • Online Education Portal

Adult Services

For people 18+  interested in their own mental health.

  • Fellowship Club and Recovery Learning Center
  • Depression & Bipolar Support Group
  • Family Advocate support
  • Community Wellness Program

For information please see our Resources.

Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. It also teaches an action plan to use in a psychiatric emergency. The course fee is $45, which includes the course book and certification for three years upon passing. Scholarships are available. Help make Mental Health First Aid as common as CPR!

Why Does It Matter?

  • Sometimes people don’t how to ask for help.
  • There is a suicide every 12.8 minutes. Let’s change this!
  • We can all be more aware & more informed.

Upcoming Dates: TBD

To sign up for a class or learn more, call 805-884-8440 or email

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Family to Family Course

This is a free 12 week course to help families of people living with mental health disorders learn about serious mental health disorders – what they are and how they’re diagnosed and treated. It also helps families better understand how their ill relative experiences their illness, how to best support their relative’s recovery process and how to better cope with the impact of the mental health disorder on the entire family. The course is recommended for families of persons who are living with known or suspected mental health disorders with or without co-occurring substance abuse disorders. The class was created by an experienced family member mental health professional and is taught by specially trained and certified teachers who are also experienced family members. This nationally recognized program has been included in the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the national Department of Health and Human Services) Registry of Evidence Based Practices. For more information, contact the Family Advocate Office:  805-884-8440 (ext) 3206;

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Mental Health Matters

Mental Health Matters is an innovative education experience where everyone can learn about common mental health disorders, treatment, and wellness practices. Two formats are available: one for sixth graders and one for ninth graders. Students learn to recognize symptoms of mental health disorders and that treatment is available. A secondary objective is to directly address the stigma too often associated with mental illness. The highly successful program which has been taught in schools for twenty years in Santa Barbara, California now has this online multimedia resource. This portal provides an interactive online introduction to a highly misunderstood part of our being - our mental wellness.

The California Standards for Health Education include mental, emotional and social health, yet these topics are absent from most compulsory educational curricula and textbooks. Mental Health Matters fills a significant gap in students’ education. It also provides a foundation for the students’ understanding of their own mental health which can benefit them for the rest of their lives. While navigating this portal, visitors and students will learn how they can live productive and fulfilling lives. They will be able to identify and directly address the stigma, prejudice and stereotyping that is too often associated with mental illness.

The instruction is highly interactive and employs a variety of teaching and learning modalities. The course is taught by a team of volunteers who have been involved in the development of the curriculum. A collegial coaching model is employed so as to ensure instructional consistency and integrity. Members of the Mental Health Matters teaching team observe other volunteers teaching the curriculum until they feel ready to take on the facilitation of some of the learning activities themselves. When they do so, they know that more experienced team members are there to support them and to help out however necessary. Dynamic videos and animations make the text come alive, as people who live with mental health disorders tell their stories. After each class, the teaching team gathers to debrief the instruction, discuss pedagogy, and plan for next steps to meet the assessed needs of the class. In this way, the instruction is dynamic and ever evolving.

While the course content about mental health is relatively stable, the instructional strategies and learning activities are sufficiently flexible so as to align with core classroom instruction in the English language arts, reinforcing standards-based skills such as note taking, oral presentation, summarizing, and response to literature. For this reason, the team leader meets with the classroom teachers prior to scheduling in order to negotiate the learning activities that can reinforce the academic skills that the students are learning. Because mental health issues affect one in four people, we all are likely to know someone who has a mental health disorder. By understanding the basics of mental health disorders, the possible outcomes, and the help which is available, visitors to this site should be better equipped to deal with the mental health challenges that they, their friends or their families might encounter in life.

Goals and Outcomes

  • Learn the facts, including symptoms and warning signs, of specific mental health disorders
  • Understand that mental health disorders are treatable
  • Understand that mental health disorders can happen to anyone – even children and adolescents
  • Reduce stigma and ignorance that surround mental health disorders
  • Practice wellness skills

Instructional Specifics

  • Five one-hour sessions (may be adapted based on consultation with teacher).
  • Pre-planning session with each teacher to tailor activities to the particular classroom, complementing basic curriculum.
  • Consistent core content with flexible delivery system and interactive learning activities.
  • Mental Wellness Center provides the volunteer team trained to teach the “Mental Health Matters” unit.

Major Mental Health Disorders addressed in the curriculum

  • Thought disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Mood disorders
  • Clinical depression and bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety and stress-related disorders
  • Panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder
  •  Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Research Supporting Mental Health Matters
In addition to the previously mentioned concern regarding the absence of mental, emotional and social health issues from K-12 school curricula, research suggests that negative attitudes toward individuals with mental illness are developed as early as kindergarten and are relatively stable into adolescence (Weiss, 1986; Weiss, 1994). Research supports the hypothesis that there exists among school age youth a high level of stigma that is often associated with exclusion of peers who are thought to have mental illness (Hennessy, Swords, and Heary, 2008). Research further suggests that by fifth grade, students are able to conceptualize mental illness in a more sophisticated manner (Ventieri, Clark, and Hay, 2011). This last finding suggests that middle school is a developmentally opportune time to provide psycho-education and to decrease stigma.

History and Background for Mental Health Matters
In 2000, in collaboration with the Goleta Union School District, the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County (now the Mental Wellness Center) developed a curriculum called the School Mental Illness Learning Experience (SMILE).  In 2008, the curriculum was updated and rebranded Mental Health Matters. In May of that year, the newly revised curriculum was piloted in one sixth-grade classroom at El Camino Elementary School in the Goleta Union School District. 
In Academic Year 2013-14, the Mental Health Matters curriculum was taught in twenty sixth-grade classrooms, educating more than 600 sixth graders. A version of the Mental Health Matters curriculum also has been piloted in eight seventh-grade science classrooms and two high school English classrooms, introducing approximately 300 secondary students to mental wellness, mental health disorders, and such issues as empathy, stigma and person-first language. In 2015/16, we piloted our innovative hybrid Mental Health Matters curriculum in five ninth-grade health classes at Santa Barbara High School. Our work is now well established in the Cold Spring, Hope, Goleta Union and Santa Barbara School Districts. We taught Mental Health Matters in 31 schools to over 1,600 students. We were not able to accommodate all requests for the course, suggesting the recognized need for mental health education and the growing success of the Mental Health Matters curriculum.

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Lunch & Learns

The Mental Wellness Center’s Lunch and Learns extend service providers’ knowledge about mental health topics. Typically scheduled around a lunch (provided by the Mental Wellness Center), these are brief presentations by respected professionals in the field. Please click on the Calendar to see when the next lunch and learn is scheduled. Join us for a wonderful evening of collaboration, knowledge sharing and community building. Contact Patricia Collins at (805) 884-8440, extension 3246 to reserve your attendance.

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Fourth Thursday Speaker Presentations

With the Southern Santa Barbara County Chapter (SSBCO) National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), we offer presentations on topics of local interest related to mental health on the fourth Thursday of each month.  Coffee and dessert is followed by a dynamic speaker on a topic of interest regarding mental health. Coffee and dessert begin at 6:30 p.m., and a speaker presentation follows at 7:00 p.m.  In addition, other SSBCC NAMI presentations are scheduled throughout the year. Please click on the Calendar for current offerings.

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What is recovery?

Recovery is what happens when a person focuses on becoming the best person he or she is capable of being.  Recovery is unique and changes from person to person, depending on individual strengths, interests, and vulnerabilities. See more in the Glossary.