Menlo Park: Youth mental health nonprofit expands services


SafeSpace, a new Menlo Park-based nonprofit, plans to expand its efforts beyond providing teens with acute mental health care and will begin to offer broader youth mental health advocacy and education in the community.

Local educator Lesley Martin, recently named managing director of SafeSpace, said the nonprofit will expand its efforts on multiple fronts, working with people from ages 12 to 26 who may be anywhere on a spectrum of need for mental health support.

Lesley Martin has been named managing director at SafeSpace. (Photo courtesy of SafeSpace.)
For those with urgent needs, help is given in a clinical setting. Therapy and other mental health services are provided by the Bay Area Children's Association and PrairieCare, led by Dr. Tom Tarshis and Dr. Joel Oberstar. Currently, therapy is paid for via fees or insurance. The group is working on getting MediCal coverage by the end of the year, Ms. Martin said.

For those with less urgent needs but who may be at risk of mental health challenges, she said, she plans to develop an "emotional first aid" educational program to help them learn how to relax and help their peers relax.

For others who have been through a mental health crisis and want to share their story or give back to the community, the organization has started a youth advisory board made up of teens from Menlo-Atherton High School, Nueva School, Sacred Heart, Woodside High School, Menlo School and Menlo College.

Local factors

There are number of factors that make youth mental health a particular challenge in Silicon Valley, according to Ms. Martin, a Menlo Park resident who taught at Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park and has been a principal at Tierra Linda Middle School in San Carlos, Taylor Middle School in Millbrae and Summit Public Charter School in east San Jose.

Primary among those factors, she said, are the cumulative stresses of high expectations from family, school and peers. In addition, she noted, teens naturally go through a lot of challenging changes that can be made more emotionally difficult with social media.

Menlo Park operation

SafeSpace, which opened in April, has expanded to occupy the second floor above Feldman's Books (1170 El Camino Real) and the former Gentry building next door (1162 El Camino Real) in Menlo Park. The organization plans to dedicate both of those buildings to individual, family and group therapy and psychiatric care.

In coming weeks, SafeSpace plans to launch an outpatient program.

The organization is seeking a third location in Menlo Park for its non-clinical work. Ideas being considered for nonclinical programs include a speaker series and working with schools to boost student mental health and destigmatize seeking help.

Teen advisers

Each of the teens on the advisory board has gone through, or knows someone who has gone through, mental health challenges, Ms. Martin said. They're there to guide the organization and keep it focused on what will help youth most.

Youth advisory board members have met with administrators at their schools to review what the schools could be doing better to support students' mental health and develop action plans to address those shortcomings.

One student has been working with Menlo School to develop a dedicated "de-stress" space. A student from Menlo-Atherton will be representing the high school on a wellness advisory panel for the school district.

At Sacred Heart, students are working on putting together a panel of students who can answer parents' questions about what it's like to be a student.

The approach at every school, Ms. Martin said, will be different, focusing on where the school is succeeding and falling short.

Training teens to talk about their experiences and encourage openness among their peers to talk about mental health is a key part of the advisory board's mission.

The organization is "giving space for people … so they don't have to start that conversation (about mental health)," said Julia Wang, a senior at Menlo School and youth advisory board member.

Grand opening

SafeSpace held a two-day grand opening on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15 and 16, when organization co-founder Susan Bird named Ms. Martin as the new managing director.

State Sen. Jerry Hill made an appearance at the Saturday event, as did Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith.

"For students to know that they're not alone, and have a resource for them ... is really important," Ms. Keith said, noting that the program is the first of its kind in the county.

For teens seeking mental health guidance, SafeSpace recommends contacting a crisis text line by texting BAY to 741741 for free, confidential, 24/7 support or going to the Bay Area Children's Association website,, to schedule an appointment.


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