Mental Health Awareness Month: How OCDE is making mental health a year-round focus

Children smiling

Every year, the entire month of May is dedicated to raising mental health awareness. But efforts to address and support mental health needs in Orange County span the entire calendar.

Here’s a look at some of the work OCDE is doing year-round to help local children and families thrive, along with some helpful resources.

Multi-Tiered System of Support

In partnership with local districts, OCDE has made it a top priority to support the mental and physical health and wellbeing of every student. In practical terms, much of this work is in the form of training and technical assistance aligned with California’s Multi-Tiered System of Support framework. 

MTSS predates the pandemic but feels like it was made for this moment. It can be thought of as a schoolwide commitment to a set of proven strategies that address academic, behavioral and social-emotional needs. Essentially, staff members collaborate to provide a baseline of support for all students, additional assistance for some and targeted interventions for those with the greatest needs. 

Since 2016, OCDE has led the statewide implementation of MTSS based on the maxim “All Means All.” It’s become OCDE’s flagship framework for the simple reason that it’s effective in all educational applications, including programs that boost literacy.

Strategic vision for student thriving

In April 2023, OCDE introduced a strategic vision called “Empowering Students to Thrive in Education, Career and Life,” which aims to ensure that children are thriving in all aspects of their lives with the help of families, educators and community partners.

The 50-page report provides a comprehensive overview of shared objectives for the health, well-being and success of students, along with strategic priorities and indicators to measure progress. It also documents effective partnerships and supports that are contributing to student thriving, which is defined as flourishing physically, socially, emotionally and academically. The strategic vision has been endorsed by more than two dozen Orange County school district superintendents.

Campus WellSpace centers

OCDE has partnered with CHOC to pilot a number of school-based WellSpace centers that encourage students to take a break from life’s daily stressors in supervised settings that are safe, calm and inclusive. 

Since 2021, about two dozen centers have opened at middle and high schools across Orange County, and more are in development. Each campus WellSpace has been thoughtfully designed with comfortable furniture and a soothing, natural aesthetic, allowing students to recenter and reset for 10 to 15 minutes based on a teacher’s referral, by request, or during nutrition and lunch breaks.

Regional coordinators

With funding from the Mental Health Student Services Act — or MHSSA — and in partnership with the Orange County Health Care Agency and local school districts, OCDE hired seven regional mental health coordinators in 2021, creating a countywide network to increase and strengthen mental health services. Along with supporting collaboration and facilitating partnerships with mental health service providers, they’ve enhanced district procedures and protocols, and provided trainings and technical assistance.

OCDE has since received funding through MHSSA to hire three additional mental health coordinators to support school-based WellSpaces and the areas of behavior intervention and mental health, and substance use and mental health. Once these coordinators are hired, they will support all Orange County districts based on their specialties and areas of expertise.

RESET Toolbox

OCDE, CHOC and the nonprofit Western Youth Services worked to develop an online toolbox that includes self-paced trainings, apps and other mental health resources for students. The RESET Toolbox, which can be found at, is designed to engage and support young people who have coped with social isolation, toxic stress, economic hardship and other adverse experiences.

OCDE Learning Supports

OCDE staff has developed a number of resources and trainings for school employees and families who have experienced pandemic-related trauma, including workshops on how parents can support their children in times of crisis and when they may need additional services and support. Workshops are typically offered through OCDE’s Learning Supports unit and the department’s Student Achievement and Wellness unit. 

Student Advocates for Mental Health

Another OCDE-led program empowers student leaders to serve as school-based champions of mental health. The Student Advocates for Mental Health initiative, supported by the OC Health Care Agency with funding from the Mental Health Services Act, trains young people to raise mental health awareness and reduce stigmas at their schools through peer-influencer campaigns, workshops, activities and an annual video contest. To date, about three dozen schools are participating from 18 school districts.

Additional resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety, there are a number of free resources available to help. Here are a few:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 1-800-273-8255 is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline that’s available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. It provides Spanish-speaking counselors, as well as options for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
  • The Crisis Text Line. The Crisis Text Line is the only 24/7, nationwide crisis-intervention text message hotline. Text HOME to 741-741.
  • OC WarmLine. Available 24/7, the OC WarmLine is a free and confidential telephone service providing emotional support and resources to Orange County residents. Call 714-991-6412 or visit for more information.
  • National Parent Helpline. This hotline provides emotional support and empowerment strategies to strengthen families. Call 1-855-4A PARENT(1-855-427-2736) 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays.
  • 2-1-1 OC. This service connects Orange County’s most vulnerable residents with vital health and human service resources. Call 888-600-4357 or visit

This story was originally published in May 2023.