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Stanford creates center for youth mental health

Center looks to open new health clinics to serve 12- to 25-year-olds

Stanford Medicine's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences has consolidated all of its existing youth mental health efforts — as well as some new ones — under one roof and a new name: the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

The new center will house early mental health support services, educational and suicide-prevention efforts, community partnerships, school-based health services, research and more with the goal of "spearheading a new national vision for adolescent and young adult wellness and mental health support," the center's website reads.

"I've been particularly concerned, not only locally but nationally, about the need for us to create in this country a public mental health model for adolescent and young adults where one doesn't really exist," said Steven Adelsheim, a Stanford child psychiatrist who is serving as director of the Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing. "Half of all mental health issues start by (age) 14 and three-quarters by the age of 24, but we really don't have great systems that are comfortable for people to get early mental health care. I've become more and more convinced thorough my career ... that we still don't have great systems in place to provide that early support."

The center will focus on early intervention and support, primarily through the opening of several adolescent mental health clinics — possibly in the Bay Area and likely across the United States. The model for these clinics is based on a national youth mental health initiative in Australia called headspace, which provides early intervention services — from physical and mental health to alcohol and other drugs, work and study issues — to 12- to 25-year-olds at dozens of centers located throughout the country. Services are either free or come at a low cost, and many centers offer drop-in services. headspace centers are also built and designed with input from people from the very age group they serve and have youth advisory boards.

There's also an online version — "eheadspace" — that provides confidential online and telephone support service seven days a week as well as school-based programs and training for health professionals and research efforts.

The goal of the headspace model, which was created and funded by the Australian government in 2006, is to increase access to mental health support and provide youth and adolescents a comfortable space with wraparound services for anything they might need help with.

The message, Adelsheim said, is: "If you're having a break up, come to headspace; we can help you. If you're struggling with anxiety, come to headspace; we can help you."

"They're making it comfortable if not cool to go in and get early mental health care in a less stigmatized way," he added.

The Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing website calls the headspace model "a critical first step toward developing a national youth model for public mental health."

Stanford Medicine received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to conduct a feasibility study of opening a headspace-like center in the United States, and is now partnering with the foundation to "try to get several sites off the ground in the U.S.," Adelsheim said.

Locally, they're currently in talks "to see where that might be reasonable and viable in the Bay Area," he said.

The Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing will also provide connections to existing clinical services at Stanford, including for severe anxiety and mood disorders, eating disorders, early psychosis, trauma prevention and early intervention and multidisciplinary assessments for young people and their families.

The center will also work closely with primary care providers to boost their own understanding and training around early identification and treatment of mental health issues. A "core element" of the center will be to take advantage of innovative health technologies as well as evaluate websites, crisis text lines and apps related to mental health.

Ongoing partnerships with local school districts, including Palo Alto Unified, will continue under the new center. In Palo Alto, this has included suicide prevention and postvention efforts, parent education, panel events and more.

Stanford also began this weekend hosting focus groups with local teens and their parents to discuss mental health issues and any needs they think should be met in the community.

"At this point, we are doing more information gathering and really are just trying to be sure that the community voice is providing direction for us, which seems like a critical, critical thing to be doing," Adelsheim said.

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