In an effort to help Santa Clarita Valley residents in need of someone to talk to, West Ranch High School senior Caitlin Ong created Lucy’s Psychiatry, a peer-counseling service.
“Lucy’s really just came from our personal struggles opening up to others,” Ong said. “Essentially, we just wanted to be able to create a space where students could feel comfortable talking to others when they felt like they couldn’t go to their parents or their friends. We just wanted to be able to provide that because we felt like we didn’t have that.”
Kyle Fabella, who assisted Ong in setting up the organization, agreed, adding, “We just wanted to provide an open space for people who are going through things, but … feel like they can’t open up to anyone. … Everyone has their own struggles, and we just want to be a helping hand for them.”
Named for Lucy’s psychiatry booth in the “Peanuts” comics, the student-run organization is now providing trained, certified peer counseling sessions to teens across SCV, with its co-founders hoping to expand those services to include more than just their peers.
“We are trying to open up our services to not just teens in the SCV, but also the elderly people and the people who are hospitalized … and are feeling the loneliness that has come from being stuck in quarantine,” Ong added. “Just like we want to be a friend to our peers, we just want to be able to brighten their day a little bit … even to just have casual conversations.”
Jonah Shah, the project manager for the organization and a teacher at Global Prep Academy, agreed, adding, “They just want to give access to a service for not just those who are going through something, but something where people can casually come and talk and really just have a conversation with people that are willing to listen.”
Shah joined all of Lucy’s Psychiatry’s peer counselors in undergoing cognitive psychiatry training, learning about the nuances of mental health and how to help others, which allowed them to create guidelines of their own.
“That really helped us when it really comes down to giving advice other than just being a listening friend,” Ong said. “On top of that, we had hands-on sessions, where we would basically recreate scenarios that would potentially come up during these sessions and talk about how to address them… so that they’re prepared to be able to talk in a way that is both approachable but also professional.”
It’s that scenario training, which the peer counselors engage in frequently, that Shah believes allows the students to listen and learn from one another.
Then, a team of around 30 students got to work, training, building the website and even creating psychiatry stands like those in the comic, which they hope to put up around town for face-to-face conversations after the pandemic.
Since they officially launched the service in November, it’s been beginning to pick up, with some even signing up for weekly sessions.
“It started as peer counseling and promoting mental wellness among teens and high schoolers, but then it transformed because of the pandemic to a service where anyone can come and talk about things, talk about their life, talk about their day, or maybe even if they want to talk about their problems, with people that are trained and just willing to listen and willing to put in the time to have conversations with others,” Shah said. “All these kids are powerhouses, so I just make sure everything goes smoothly and we’re doing everything safely.”
With mental wellness continuing to be what Fabella and Ong consider an overlooked issue today, they both hope to use the service to help support mental health across the SCV.
“I see this as a great thing where we are just trying to be a service to actually help be there for someone,” Fabella said. “My goal on this is to be a helping hand and a way to spread awareness of mental wellness.”
For more information on Lucy’s Psychiatry, visit lucyspsychiatry.org.