Youth mental health clinic now open in Menlo Park

SafeSpace is on El Camino Real near McDonald's

The nondescript sign on the storefront between Feldman's Books and the McDonald's on El Camino Real in Menlo Park reads simply "SafeSpace."

What that sign represents, however, is huge.

With the opening of SafeSpace, Menlo Park now has a mental health clinic designed by and for young people, aiming to give those from age 12 to 26 ready access to professional mental health services, with the hope that early help can prevent later crises.

SafeSpace's backers say they offer a friendly, relaxed, non-judgmental environment where young people will feel comfortable when they think they, or their friends, might need a mental health checkup, or more. A place, as the SafeSpace website says on its home page, where someone who is simply "not feeling like yourself," can "come talk to someone who cares and will listen."

In addition to offering professional services, the nonprofit organization's goal is to educate youth, parents, teachers and the public about mental health issues and how to recognize them, while trying to erase the stigma attached to seeking help for issues such as anxiety and depression.

SafeSpace has offices in adjacent buildings one formerly housed Gentry Magazines and the other a day spa, above Feldman's. Individual and family counseling will take place in the upstairs offices and group programs, including intensive outpatient programs where youth with serious problems can meet after school four days a week for six to eight weeks will be in the building next door. Issues such as exam and academic stress, bullying, relationships, sexual identity, depression and anxiety will be addressed.

The program will take some insurance and offers subsidized services to those with financial need who lack insurance. Therapists as well as psychiatrists, who can prescribe medications, will be onsite, with at least six clinicians so patients can find a right match.

Because SafeSpace will be staffed with licensed psychiatric professionals, youth in crisis will be able to go to SafeSpace instead of to a hospital emergency room, its founders say.

While appointments are encouraged, SafeSpace will also have someone available to talk to walk-ins.

"I want everybody from every different background to come in," SafeSpace chief executive officer Chris Tanti said.

"Hopefully, they feel very comfortable, heard and listened to, so they'll come," founder Stacy Drazan said. "Our whole model is early intervention, prevention ... to catch them much earlier than crisis."

Tested model

SafeSpace is modeled on the Australian government-run youth mental health clinics called "headspace." Starting in 2006 with 30 clinics, headspace now has more than 100 clinics and its model has been copied internationally.

When SafeSpace's founders visited Australia to see headspace first-hand, they met Mr. Tanti, its founding chief executive officer, who had recently left the organization. They recruited him to join their board, but Mr. Tanti said he was so impressed by their vision and goals that he instead agreed to head SafeSpace.

Mr. Tanti started working for SafeSpace at the end of February, and is renting a home nearby. His wife and two children, who are in high school and middle school and will attend local public schools in the fall, will soon join him.


SafeSpace was born of the painful personal experience of founders Stacey Drazan of Woodside and Susan Bird of Menlo Park. Liesl Moldow of Atherton joined them early on.

After Ms. Drazan's daughter, Shelby, died by suicide in 2014, Ms. Drazan became determined to try to help other families avoid what hers had been through. Ms. Bird and Ms. Moldow have both had family members with depression and anxiety, and Ms. Moldow said she herself suffered from anxiety and depression as a 15-year-old.

Ms. Moldow said, as parents, the SafeSpace founders know what other parents want. "They want to know who can I talk to, to get what I need," she said. SafeSpace will also have support groups for parents.

The three women all have corporate experience, including taking startups public.

In October, the three women announced plans to open a Menlo Park clinic by the end of August. They opened months early although their full program will not be available until the end of the summer because they feel there is such need for their services.

Within two minutes of hooking up the phones, SafeSpace received its first call for an appointment. Clients have been meeting with clinicians in the new office, and SafeSpace's first six-week Intensive Outpatient Program for those with serious mental health issues starts soon.

Through the website, they plan to make online counseling available.

"We're not going to be one of those organizations that talks about what they are going to do. We're going to do it," said Ms. Bird.

"That's going to be our motto: under-promise, over-deliver," said Ms. Moldow.

"We've done a lot in six months," she said, in what is clearly an understatement.

A village

Funding for SafeSpace has come entirely from private sources, raised through community coffees and word of mouth. Support has been wide-ranging. "My 10-year-old set up the computers," said Ms. Moldow.

In addition to startup funds, donors have provided art and furnishings for the offices, as well as in-kind services such as legal work and temporary office space. The real estate agents who helped find the offices gave up some of their commissions.

"So many people are reaching out and wanting to help," said Ms. Drazan.

The women believe the nonprofit will be self-sustaining in as soon as six months. "We don't have a lot of overhead," said Ms. Moldow. "We want to come up with a model that we can replicate, that others can replicate, to help kids," she said. "Ultimately, we want to go nationwide. We want to be the McDonald's of youth mental health."

The offices were located for easy access, close to public transportation and several schools. "If we were to close our eyes and dream of a great (location), this is it," said co-founder Ms. Bird.

Clinical Director Tom Tarshis, whom the women met while researching the requirements for taking medical insurance, has been hiring staff. Mr. Tarshis heads the Bay Area Children's Association (known as BACA), but like Mr. Tanti was so impressed with the vision and goals of SafeSpace that he joined the organization. The BACA clinics in San Jose and Oakland will soon become SafeSpace clinics.

SafeSpace will work with, not compete with, existing organizations such as Challenge Success and the Children's Health Council, Ms. Drazan said. "As a community, we have to come together and support the youth. This isn't something someone will win. The youth have to win," she said.

Ms. Drazen said the SafeSpace founders don't regret the hard work they've put in. "If we can help one person, it's all worth it," she said. "And I think we've already done that."


SafeSpace resources


Clinic address: 162 El Camino Real, Menlo Park (above Feldman's books)

Phone: (650) 304-3906

To donate (tax-deductible):



Related stories:

Youths' personal stories tell why SafeSpace is needed

Student Youth Advisory Board helps set SafeSpace direction

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4 people like this
Posted by Depressed
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 6, 2017 at 6:30 pm

This is wonderful. If SafeSpace only saves one life it will be worth the effort. Thank you to all who made it happen.

I wish there was a safe place for adults also, like the man who walked in front of the train recently. Maybe if there was a professional he could have talked to without making an appointment, he might not have stepped in front of the train.

Not long ago I went through a crisis and ended up at a local county facility where people who threaten suicide are taken and placed on a 24 hour hold - a place that resembles a prison where no counseling is offered and the individual in crisis is forced to stay in a room with other people in crisis, with nothing to read or do - just sit and wait for 24 hours of hell till you're let out. It was one of the worst experiences of my life and because of it I will never again seek help if I ever feel suicidal again. I learned my lesson.

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Jun 6, 2017 at 9:19 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Dear Depressed -
Thank you for posting your experience. I will do some research and find you a resource and post it here, very soon.

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Jun 7, 2017 at 9:35 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Here is a resource:
National Alliance on Mental Illness San Mateo County
Web Link - home page
Web Link - resources

In addition:

Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454.

People can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

5 people like this
Posted by A PV resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Jun 7, 2017 at 12:55 pm

How wonderful that this service is now being offered to our youth! Thank you for all the hard work you have done to create this excellent model. This is something I will support and hope others will too!

Like this comment
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2017 at 11:00 am

I've had the privilege of touring this SafeSpace location. It's beautiful, welcoming and easily accessible. Bay Area Children's Association, in my opinion, provides some of the best psychiatric and psychological services in our community. Youth who need immediate care from a mental health professional have had to choose between hospitalization (often far away from home) or waiting for weeks for an appointment. This type of "urgent care" offering will save lives and reduce suffering for so many youth and their families. Thank you so much, SafeSpace.

Depressed- I have an adult son who has major depressive disorder and who was hospitalized as a teen. Please check out San Jose Behavioral Health (a beautiful new facility which takes walk-ins 24/7) and El Camino Hospital in Mountain View (which is so dedicated to Behavioral Health that they are in the process of building a new mental health facility). Also, DBSASF offers free, walk-in peer-to-peer support groups every Saturday and Monday (year-round, regardless of holidays) at St Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco.

Like this comment
Posted by Depressed
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 8, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Sarah1000, you don't seem to understand... people who have experienced our broken system - a system that actually punishes people for simply having thoughts of suicide, are reluctant to seek help. Our mental healthcare system is severely flawed which is one of the reasons it seems that SafeSpace was created. Young people need a place to go when they're depressed - a place where they can seek counseling without fear of being locked up in a county facility simply for thinking about suicide. Adults need something similar, but I don't think there is anyplace for us to go, especially those of us without medical insurance.

A few years ago I was depressed, mostly from a physical health problem. I stupidly told my doctor that I was tired of experiencing pain, and started crying in her office. She asked me if I was suicidal and I told her I thought about it but didn't have the means to carry it out. She was concerned but I left her office promising that I would not attempt suicide. I drove home, and about 15 minutes later the police showed up at my door. My doctor had called the police because, it turns out, she was advised to do so so she would not be liable should I harm myself. I was calm and cooperative with the police and promised that I was not going to harm myself. Still, they insisted on putting me in handcuffs and hauling me off to Santa Clara Valley mental health facility for 24 hours of observation - a 51/50. I was treated like a criminal, like I had broken a law and was being punished. I was placed in a room with no escape, similar to a prison, with about 30 other individuals - mostly teens who seemed to be bipolar, a few homeless people, and some seriously disturbed individuals. Any attempt of escape meant being tackled to the ground by the police . I was given a blanket to wrap around myself because it was very cold in the room. There was nothing to do to pass the 24 hours of hell: no cell phones allowed, no books to read, nada. There was a TV that didn't work very well with the volume turned down. There was a staff observing the inmates: nurses, police, people with clipboards - observing and taking notes. The goal for the inmates was to look normal to be released. There were no caring people to talk to - no counselors or even a friendly face for reassurance. It was a punishment facility for those who have thoughts of suicide or threaten suicide. Shame on us. There were only 3 beds, so the 27 people without beds had to sit in chairs all night - kind of like being stuck in an airport after a flight is canceled. After the 24+ hours were up, a psychiatrist interviewed each inmate. I had to promise that I was not suicidal to be released. I would have said anything to get out of there.

I've heard so many times that people who commit suicide often don't display any warning signs - they appear happy and normal. Now I know why. A cry for help equals punishment and prison.

There needs to be a place where depressed adult people can go where they can talk to counselors without threat of being locked up for thoughts of suicide. I learned to never let anyone know that I am depressed. My doctor made it perfectly clear to me to keep my mouth shut.

Again, a big thank you to the folks who founded SafeSpace. I would encourage all teens to take advantage of such a great resource.

Like this comment
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2017 at 7:42 pm

@Depressed I agree with you (and I apologize for not stating such in my prior comment). I am appalled that mental health issues are "criminalized" rather than treated like other health issues. Unfortunately, your experience is common. There is a model for a SafeSpace-type place for adults called The Living Room Web Link . Other states have these living rooms. Hopefully, your sharing of your experience will help motivate a local mental health provider to consider developing a living room here. (Until then, the support group I mentioned in San Francisco is very supportive and nonjudgmental. Even the facilitator is a peer.)

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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