SANTA CRUZ -- "I'm new here and I was hoping someone here could help. I have depression, I don't have any real friends or family I can talk to about it."

That's an excerpt from a Tuesday posting at us.reachout.com for young people ages 14 to 24 looking for a safe place to talk about mental health issues.

It's a resource Santa Cruz County mental health officials want people to know about in the wake of Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut by a 20-year-old man reported to have Asperger's and a personality disorder, who killed 26 people including 20 children.

Every county in California is participating in Reach Out, a web-based campaign that launched a month ago.

"Hundreds are checking in," said Suzanne Tavano, the county's director for mental health and substance abuse services.

The thrust of the campaign, she said, is that "everybody's got problems, you're not alone, and feeling better starts with reaching out."

California Senate President Darrell Steinberg hosted a press conference Thursday to provide information on symptoms of mental illness and how to get help and what to do if faced with a suicide crisis.

Tavano said the county provides mental health services to 5,000 people a year working with local nonprofits, estimating the need is double that.

Proposition 63, a 1 percent tax on millionaires passed in 2004, has been "a lifesaver," she said, preserving services that otherwise would have been cut as state revenues dwindled.

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO

A majority of county residents have private insurance, she added.

The best strategy in that situation is to call the insurer to find out how to access mental health services, said Dane Cervine, county chief of children's mental health.

A search online for Santa Cruz County mental health turns up the county website, which has been updated to highlight how to get services and what to do in an emergency.

Cervine said the suicide prevention hotline run by the nonprofit Family Services Agency, 877-663-5433, is a good resource.

Another is the Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P, offered by First Five Santa Cruz County, reachable at 465-2217.

The website at www.first5scc.org lists classes and seminars starting Jan. 7 in Watsonville and Santa Cruz with topics such as taking children shopping and getting teens connected. Videos about Triple P are on YouTube.com.

Those covered by MediCal can call 800-952-2335. Services are provided by the Parent Center, Youth Services (a division of Santa Cruz Community Counseling Center), Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance and Family Services Agency.

ADULT RESOURCES

Pam Rogers-Wyman, who heads county adult mental health, works with Santa Cruz Community Counseling Center, Family Service Agency and Front Street Inc. to provide services.

Besides an outreach team for young people 18 to 26, Dean Kaugman advocates for veterans, and social workers Diana Hodge and Danielle Long reach out to the homeless downtown, with Long serving as liaison to the police department.

Many people are hesitant to seek mental health services because of the stigma, Tavano observed.

Singer James Durbin, who talked about his Asperger's while competing on "American Idol" and actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, who revealed her bipolar condition last year, are "heroes," Tavano said. "They're putting themselves in a potentially vulnerable position. You never know how people will react."

Follow Sentinel reporter Jondi Gumz on Twitter at Twitter.com/jondigumz

TOP RESOURCES FOR PARENTS

Suicide prevention hot line: 877-663-5433
Positive Parenting Program, Triple P, www.first5scc.org or 465-2217.
NEW FOR YOUNG PEOPLE 14-24
Reach Out: us.reachout.com