A little over a year ago, a worn out power line touched off the Erskine Fire, which razed nearly 50,000 acres near Lake Isabella east of Bakersfield. The fire devastated an area already in need of mental health care. As part of our first-person series My Valley, My Story, we hear the concerns of Heather Berry, a licensed clinical social worker who serves the entire Kern River Valley.
"Per capita, we have more mental illness, more people who suffer with emotional and mental health issues, because of the rural isolation. We also have a huge amount of substance abuse.
"In terms of mental health providers, we’re incredibly limited. I’m the only one in private practice, therefore taking private insurances. Truthfully, it feels incredibly overwhelming because I can’t keep up. I have a constant backlog of people that I’m needing to help find services outside of this area, which is an hour’s drive away through a very challenging canyon.
"It’s doubly overwhelming because this community was impacted by Kern County’s most severe fire, and 300 homes burned to the ground in 48 hours. So we have a community in post-traumatic stress, and we don’t have adequate mental health. "