I began my journey in the mental health field as an art student at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), writing my own major in “Art Therapy”. I did a field study/internship at Soteria House, and went on to become a full time staff member there. At that time, Soteria House was a pilot study of the NIMH-Schizophrenia division, led by Loren Mosher, MD.
My experience working at Soteria continues to inform my approach to assisting people who are experiencing extreme states. While such compassionate models of care have historically proven useful across cultures, they are currently viewed as “alternative” rather than mainstream. I believe this speaks to the distance we need to go in changing mental health care, and the kind of dedication to so-called “alternative” approaches that are needed to make real change—a dedication I have felt since my first day working with vulnerable young people at Soteria House and that I have pursued throughout my career through different avenues.
After completing my master’s in psychology and counseling, I was asked to work for the County of Santa Cruz Mental Health Department by the director, who thought that if I could work with people who were labeled “psychotic” without medications, I could be a “crisis worker” and “gate keeper” at the local inpatient hospital. I thought I could do some good by helping people stay out of locked hospitals so they could avoid the labeling process and medications so many people experience unnecessarily and with iatrogenic consequences. I have always believed that the greatest source of support the system could give most people would be assisting them in getting help through family and friends. Thirty years later, I am closing the chapter of my life as Chief of Adult Outpatient Recovery Services and Family Advocate in Santa Cruz. The damage in the name of mental health care that I have witnessed makes my heart ache.
I have spent years working within the public mental health system with people labeled “seriously mentally ill”. Many of these people have become dear friends and colleagues. I have worked tirelessly advocating for peoples’ civil rights within this system. I recently wrote a SAMHSA Transformation Grant and implemented a Peer Run Crisis Respite House that is transforming our local mental health community and becoming a model of care on a national level. This is the kind of work I hope to continue with EXCELLENCE—bringing change to millions of lives through the Foundation’s programming, outreach, and research.
The opportunity I see with the Foundation to work with others who have a shared vision and mission of creating a better mental health care system is an opportunity I must seize. I first learned of the EXCELLENCE from Bob Whitaker, who I invited to Santa Cruz County a few years ago to present to our psychiatry staff and share his findings with our community. After reading his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, a fire within me was reignited. I resonated with Whitaker’s findings as he spoke the truth of what I have witnessed while working in the public sector for the past thirty years. The Foundation had recently been formed, and Bob shared his excitement with me at that time. When I read about the founding and now current board members, I must admit I was quite impressed with the breadth of well-known pioneers in the mental health field and the diversity of great minds working together.
As the Senior Program Officer, I see the opportunity to bring my years of experience and passion to fruition. I am enthusiastic to join a team of like-minded people who are passionate, committed, and dedicated to research, education and system change without the bias of pharmaceutical companies and erroneous diagnostic labeling.
Because I believe so strongly in the vision and mission of the Foundation, I look forward to this opportunity to work with those who share our passion. This is not just a job—it is my life’s work.
EXCELLENCE is pleased to introduce the newest member of our team, Yana Jacobs, LMFT. She will serve as Senior Program Officer, utilizing her thirty years of experience first at Soteria House and then in clinical services and administration of the Santa Cruz County mental health system as its Chief of Adult Mental Health Services. She will bring these experiences and skills to bear in helping our donor-advised funds and grantees transform their vision for better mental health into reality. Yana says, “I am committed to the mission of advancing a more progressive and just mental health system and improving the quality of care in mainstream mental health for individuals and families.” Please join us in welcoming Yana! She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.