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Talk About It

by Jon Rosen / Los Angeles Kings

The shades of past trauma are illuminated frequently within the walls of The Guidance Center.

Patricia Costales recalls one girl who took part in therapy sessions for three months while hiding under her desk. Young clients have participated from within a tent that had been constructed in a meeting room. Puppets have been used as a means of establishing distance until a level of familiarity allows a more comfortable form of engagement.

As The Guidance Center’s Executive Director, Costales is extremely familiar with the stigma attached to seeking out and obtaining mental health counseling, and the natural discomfort often inherent in the youngest clients. She has also been an instrumental figure in moving the core operations of the mental health service provider to a brand new community center at the corner of Pine Avenue and Anaheim Street in Long Beach, directly accessible to the people who are in most need of the services provided.

“One of the big issues regarding mental health services is the stigma. People are hesitant to call for services or for help until they become quite desperate,” Costales said. “So what we were hoping is that by being part of the neighborhood, we would be perceived as being more accessible, and people would be less hesitant to call us for help.”

She has also become friendly with Los Angeles Kings television color commentator Jim Fox and his wife, Susie, who have been active figures in the team’s community outreach and the KingsCare Foundation. On Friday, September 6, Jim Fox will host the third annual Sunset Sip, a wine tasting reception and fundraiser in which proceeds generated will benefit The Guidance Center.

“Mental illness issues, I think, are in our general society are starting to be talked about a little bit more, and I find that in sports it’s starting to be talked about a little bit more,” Fox said.

There are still stark differences between the mental health counseling provided by The Guidance Center – where many clients have had traumatic exposure to child abuse, neighborhood violence, sexual abuse and homelessness – and afflictions that some professional athletes deal with.

Similar to the inroads that The Guidance Center has made since forming in 1946, there are now more accessible channels in which mental health needs are considered in sports.

“I think in the past it was a sign of weakness to talk about it, and I’m sure the rest of society feels the same way. But in sports it was even more so – you just don’t talk about that,” Fox said. “Now, I hear a rookie, he’ll come on [television] after his first game and talk about, ‘Yeah, I was really nervous tonight.’ You think, now that doesn’t have anything to do with mental illness, but maybe there’s some anxiety. But they talk about it now. Before, you wouldn’t even begin. When I came into the league, you wouldn’t even say you were nervous. You just hear more and more about athletes. That kind of caught my attention, too. We’ve got to do as much as possible. It’s treatable. Let’s treat it.”

“I’m sure there are some cases that are not curable. But if we can treat it, we can make everyone’s life a little bit more rewarding.”

Many of those who benefit from The Guidance Center’s community outreach deal with depression and behavioral and anxiety disorders. Often, they’re children who aren’t as ready to simply talk about their challenges.

“Kids don’t necessarily show us their feelings by saying ‘I’m sad.’ Sometimes they do it by getting in trouble,” Costales said. “So we see a lot of behavioral disorders as well. Kids who are getting in trouble at school, failing at school – things like that.”

For many years, those within the sport of hockey weren’t as ready to divulge performance or anxiety issues – an example that is outside of the context of those who have come from the inner-city neighborhoods surrounding The Guidance Center and have been exposed to neighborhood and domestic violence.

But there are certainly issues concerning the long-term mental and physical health of athletes who play in a sport as jarring and rugged as hockey, and the deaths of enforcers such as Derek Boogaard and Bob Probert, amongst others, have raised visibility to the frightening and nebulous characteristics of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that posthumously appeared in examinations of both players and others with a history of concussions and head injuries.

Whereas the depression that often accompanied such injuries wasn’t as widely diagnosed – or even admitted, in some cases – in hockey, a much more progressive stance has developed within the sport.

“We’re catching up,” Fox said. “I think for the longest time hockey was behind the eight ball or a little bit slower than a lot of sports. But I think that’s almost completely gone. I think that most everyone in a leadership position now in the NHL takes a progressive outlook on a lot of things, and I think they include that with mental illness.”

Again, it’s never the easiest comparison when social challenges inherent to mental health outreach are put in the context of professional sports. But there are certainly lessons for both realms in that treatment is always easily accessible – or, in the case of The Guidance Center, literally in the middle of the neighborhood.

“I think the resounding vision that we try to convey is that there’s hope for anybody,” Costales said. “Anybody has the ability to be resilient, and no matter what has happened to you and what you bring to the table, everybody has strengths, and we look for those strengths and we believe in those strengths. We try to teach clients to learn how to be future-focused.”

It is an effort that requires substantial backing from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health as well as the generosity of private donors and sponsorships. As it stands, roughly 97% of the non-profit’s funding comes from the county.

“What we’re really trying to do is shift that ratio, so that we can really expand care to the kids,” Costales said.

To do that, they rely significantly on events such as Sunset Sip as well as the continued conversation through traditional and social media. To broaden the word-of-mouth dissemination of their mission, The Guidance Center is encouraging Kings fans to “Like” them on Facebook, and they’re hoping to get to 500 “Likes” in advance of next Friday’s fundraiser. Tickets for the event are still available (CLICK HERE), though that may not be the case one week from right now.

Speaking up about mental health issues doesn’t cure them. It does, however, raise awareness and gets people talking, and that represents continued progress from an earlier era when mental health issues weren’t as readily divulged.

“More public figures do talk about it,” Fox said. “And that’s what I’m saying, we’re seeing it more and more and more where people are not afraid to talk about it, and I think that’s important. That’s really important. There is still a stigma, no question about mental illness. But now that I’ve done a little research, find me one family that doesn’t have it in their family, and that’s pretty difficult. But now we’ll try to help as many as we can.”

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