Finding mental health services in the San Juans

Winter can be hard on one’s mental health, with feelings of loneliness or isolation. On an island, those feelings can become more pronounced.

Jennifer Armstrong of the Joyce L. Sobel Family Resource Center helps to direct islanders to mental healthcare that is a fit for them.

“Behavioral health support is important no matter where someone lives. It is a critical piece of self-care that has an impact on people’s overall health and well-being,” she said.

All three of the family resource centers located on San Juan Island, Orcas and Lopez offer the Community Wellness Program. It is funded by San Juan County and provides access to low-cost, income-based counseling for residents who have no health insurance or pay private insurance with a high deductible. They have offered this service for 15 years. For more information, visit, or

The CWP has income eligibility requirements but if one does not reach those requirements, those at the family resource center will help to find an alternative. Services are available both in-person and online, depending on people’s preferences. CWP covers between 12-18 sessions, depending upon individual circumstances.

Compass Health also provides a broad array of behavioral health support programs for county residents. With a team of mental health and substance use treatment professionals based in San Juan County, Compass Health has expanded service capacity across the islands to meet community members’ behavioral health needs. Additionally, new grants from local organizations are ensuring student access to counseling through school-based telehealth programs and providing Youth Mental Health First Aid training. For referral information, contact Compass Health’s Access Team at 844-822-7609, or contact the Friday Harbor office at 360-378-2669.

Longtime Lopez resident Alex Forster is one of many who decided to take advantage of CWP by finding an affordable therapist on the island. With no insurance plan, he said the resource center was more than accommodating with helping him find what he was looking for. He said his decision and experience so far have been very fruitful and rewarding.

“It gives me a sense of emotional stability and that I am actually doing something for myself,” he said.

Forster said it took years before he decided to go to therapy. He was pleasantly surprised at how seamless the process of finding an affordable therapist on the island has been for him.

He said he has felt a big improvement in his daily life. Through speaking with a therapist, he expressed that he has brought things to the forefront that were buried and he hadn’t realized were a source of his anxiety. Now, he said he feels that he experiences less daily anxiety. The structure of having a scheduled date and time to talk has also let him stay focused the rest of the day. Forster compares the process of therapy to physical therapy.

“You have a joint that makes you want to identify why it aches because you don’t want to ache,” he said.

He plans to continue therapy for years to come and tries to advocate for others to care for their mental health as well.

“With the multitude of long-term stressors that everyone has endured over the past two years, engaging with a qualified behavioral health provider is a smart and necessary part of maintaining personal health and productivity if life starts to feel overwhelming,” Armstrong said. “We are here for everyone in the community, even if people are unsure of whether the FRC has a specific service, please call and we’re happy to work on finding appropriate resources. Our services are confidential, and we have staff available to speak with people in English and Spanish.”