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Pasadena Unified Helps Students’ Mental Health Thrive

May was Mental Health Awareness Month and for the Pasadena Unified School District, this month offered an opportunity to break the stigma around mental health. PUSD has been a trailblazer in establishing its own team of mental health experts committed to helping students who are struggling thrive. PUSD proudly houses two internal mental health departments, THRIVE: School Mental Health and PUSD Mental Health Services. Both work in tandem to provide comprehensive mental health services to students. Licensed Clinical Social Worker Lara Choulakian, who manages THRIVE, says anxiety continues to be a leading reason for referrals for mental health services along with depressive symptoms and other life stressors. End-of-theyear anxiety is common as well, but it does not have to be crippling. “The end of the school year comes with its own unique challenges.

Just because the school year is ending doesn’t mean mental health support will stop. Support is available and we will connect you with the services you need,” Choulakian said. “We want to reinforce the importance of mental wellbeing as an essential part of overall health, not just this month but every day.” Erica Villalpando, LCSW, is manager of PUSD Mental Health Services, and agrees that mental health supports are vital to the academic success of students and their overall wellbeing. “One thing that makes PUSD unique is that help is available to all students whether they have private insurance, Medi-Cal, or no insurance at all,” Villalpando said. Services range from direct support from mental health experts at school or referrals to several community agencies who partner with PUSD. School mental health specialists work with complex problems, from bullying to self-esteem issues and depression. “Students can come and check in with us if they’re having a bad day, if they need to just talk to someone, if they need guidance, or help coping with what they’re feeling,” said Julia Paniagua, PUSD THRIVE Clinical Social Worker. “We have people at schools, and we encourage students to drop in, say hi and come to us anytime.” While the issues that kids face today can be challenging, Ms. Paniagua says her job comes with many rewards such as “getting to see the kids every single day and hearing about their successes and their struggles. The fact that I’m their trusted adult on campus is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced.”

For more information on PUSD’s internal mental health and other student support services, please visit Care Solace is another complimentary service available to the PUSD community. To find a mental health care provider, contact Care Solace at (888) 515-0595, or visit

First published in the June 1 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.

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