As CEO of the Mental Wellness Center of Santa Barbara, I have had the privilege of leading local efforts to improve mental health in our community for 30 years. My experience and perspective are unique as I am not a clinical expert and yet am steeped in the many issues and challenges facing our clients and their families. I started off knowing so little about mental illness, and had such a limited appreciation for the ways it affects people. Over my time at the Mental Wellness Center I have had the opportunity to see firsthand how painful the struggles can be and how magnificently beautiful the fight for healing and recovery can be.

The understanding and acceptance of the experience of mental illness has radically changed as each of us has had to cope with our own mental health in a changing world.

Perhaps the biggest positive change in 75 years is the willingness to talk about mental illness, the acknowledgement that treatment works and the high standard of best practices aims to detect mental illness in its early stages to minimize the potential for disability.

Annmarie Cameron

Today, we are living at an intersection of an age of technology, a global pandemic which has shined a light on global health crisis, financial complexity, political polarization, social justice and identities, homelessness, and a hinge between multiple generations. As we seek safety and stability in our lives and that of our families, we are forced to adapt to uncertainty.. This narrative is shaping new perceptions and affecting our community’s mental, emotional and social well-being.  We are facing issues as a community with the understanding that, unless we care for the least of us, none of us are truly well.

And it is opening our eyes to an opportunity for self and societal transformation.

At a time when our voices have a profound power to change lives, I feel a personal responsibility to speak up about mental illness and mental health. I want people to feel safe exploring these topics. To claim or reclaim parts of their self-identity. To protect the most personal parts of their story. To normalize their experience. To feel safe asking for help. I want all people to know they have this power. This is the power of the “peer” experience. To know that you are not alone and not defined by your current or previous struggles. To know that hope is more than wishful thinking; it is lived experience, precious and real.

Changing the conversation about mental illness.

In 2022, we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Mental Wellness Center. This is a transformative moment for us as we build upon the foundation of our past and chart our future. The state of our individual and collective mental health is being challenged – for youth, adults and families. The Vision and Mission of the Mental Wellness Center has never been more critical – why we are here and what we do to serve individuals and families impacted by mental illness, across the spectrum.  We do this through creating a safe space for people to connect, learn and grow. A place where it’s okay to ask questions and ask for help.

Mental illness can arise without warning. Know you are not alone.

The Mental Wellness Center provides access to essential services and support groups. Every year we support individuals and families in Santa Barbara County. Many of the calls to our Center are from a parent or loved one asking how we can help their son, daughter, or friend who is experiencing a mental health issue. We understand the fear and weight of responsibility in taking that first step toward asking for help. And we know mental health doesn’t just impact one person, it impacts everyone around that person. And no matter where you are on your journey, we are on the path with you.

Anxiety, stress, and depression are on the spectrum of mental health.

We all experience mental health challenges at one time or another. A mom, a corporate executive, a high school student, a teacher, a neighbor, a friend. It is deeply individualized and personal. It affects how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. It’s a state of wellbeing, not an emotion, that can be positive or negative. A mental health condition, if left untreated, has the potential to lead to a diagnosed mental illness. One in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year. And fifty percent of all life-time mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.

Your Community Center for Mental Wellness Since 1947

The Mental Wellness Center provides mental health education, essential community services, including our Fellowship Club, support groups and family advocate services, as well as safe, affordable housing. We can’t fix mental illness or make it go away. However, we do believe education is an agent of change and access to resources transforms lives. Our services are available to everybody thanks to individual donor support, private and governmental funding. And we work in collaboration with community organizations to connect individuals and families with experts and clinical services, including NAMI Southern Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness, and Santa Barbara Housing Authority.

You never know when what you say or do will change someone’s life.

It is my hope that by sharing some of my story and familiarizing the community further with the Mental Wellness Center, we will change lives here in Santa Barbara. That if you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health condition, of any kind, that you will now know that we are here for you. To listen, to help answer your questions, to educate and empower you, to connect you with resources, to give you the confidence and courage to share your story. It’s in our sharing of stories that we are able to relate to one another, normalize what we are feeling, and evolve humanity.

“Your legacy is every life you touch.” —Oprah Winfrey

Since 1947, the Mental Wellness Center has been touching lives in Santa Barbara County. As we move forward to our next 75 years, we build upon a legacy of tremendous community leaders; Richard H. Lambert, M.D. and Mrs. Clifford Wright Jr. George Kaufmann and Geoff Green. If the measure of our legacy is every life we touch, then together let’s create a legacy of safety, recovery and wellness.

Ways you can dispel stigma, identify signs and symptoms of mental illness, and elevate the overall mental health of our community.

As part of our 75th Anniversary, Mental Wellness Center has embarked on an ambitious campaign to expand our programs to increase the community’s understanding of mental illness, who we are and what we offer and to serve greater numbers of individuals and families. Our goal is to reach 75,000 Santa Barbara residents – through our education programs, services, fundraising goals, and activities planned throughout the year.

To learn more about the Mental Wellness Center and how we support school age kids to seniors and everyone in between, visit

Annmarie Cameron, CEO of Mental Wellness Center of Santa Barbara, reflects on the journey of mental health over the past 75 years.


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