Mental health clinic for youth coming to Menlo Park

SafeSpace will serve 12- to 26-year-olds

By the end of next summer, if all goes according to plan, Menlo Park will have a mental health clinic just for young people.

SafeSpace is planned as a self-sustaining nonprofit modeled on the Australian clinics called headspace.

Since starting in 2006 with 30 clinics, headspace has expanded to 100 clinics in Australia (which has about half the population of California) and the model has been adopted in Israel, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands and Canada.

The team working to open SafeSpace says the Menlo Park clinic is planned to be the first of many in the United States. Stanford University is also working to bring youth mental-health centers modeled after headspace to Santa Clara County.

SafeSpace will serve young people from ages 12 to 26, and involve youth in everything from designing the clinic interiors to spreading the word about it and referring friends who may need help. The clinic will have a youth advisory board, and partner with student groups at local schools. Online counseling and advice will also be available.

Stacy Drazan of Woodside, Susan Bird of Menlo Park and Liesl Moldow of Atherton are heading the effort to get SafeSpace open by the end of August 2017. They have some powerful help in the person of Chris Tanti, who has agreed to be SafeSpace's executive director. For 10 years, until his resignation in June, Tanti was the CEO of Australia's headspace.

The three women have a number of things in common beyond living on the Midpeninsula. They are mothers with business backgrounds and experience in startups, and all have parented children with mental health issues.

Tanti said the experience of the three is part of what convinced him to go beyond his initial offer to serve on SafeSpace's board and become its director.

"I'm working with pretty extraordinary people," he said. "People who understand and have had experience in the mental health system."

Moldow said her now-college-age daughter's struggle with anxiety and depression since she was in second grade showed her family first-hand many of the problems with the existing mental health system.

"We have nothing for our kids," she said.

SafeSpace will provide "a whole new model of mental health that's primarily focused on acceptance," she said.

One idea they will emphasize, Moldow said, is that mental health "is just as important as your physical health."

Statistics show the need for youth mental health services in San Mateo County. A survey in San Mateo County's 2014-15 Adolescent Report showed 70 percent of students in San Mateo County public schools reported being depressed, anxious or emotionally stressed in the month before the survey and that 23 percent of boys and 38 percent of girls reported suicidal thoughts. (Read "Why so few hospitals beds for teens?")

National statistics show suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between ages 15 and 25.

In the Midpeninsula area, "young people are struggling, as they are everywhere else, and there really aren't the services for them to go to," Tanti said.

Many available services aren't age-appropriate, he added.

As with the Australian headspace clinics, SafeSpace's interior will be designed by a youth advisory board with the goal of making youth feel at ease.

"This is why this organization has been so successful," Bird said, "because kids have input and they feel they're being heard."

"We're hoping to give the kids a really comfortable place to go," Drazan echoed.

While the group is still looking for a Menlo Park location for the clinic and SafeSpace offices, they hope to be near public transportation and local schools. They are looking for 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of space that could be in two separate, but nearby, locations.

Young people will be able to get help "from someone who will listen and not judge them," Drazan said.

SafeSpace, Moldow said, will help "kids to understand who they are and who they're not," and allow them to be "who they are and not who we expect them to be."

Tanti said SafeSpace will not dismiss problems that might be thought of as minor by adults, such as relationship breakups or questions about sexuality.

"People don't get screened out because their problems aren't complex enough," he said. "We don't turn anyone away."

Group therapy, where young people can try out their ideas on their peers, and family therapy will be offered.

"Young people know what young people need, and families know what families need," Tanti said.

Catching problems early can help keep them from getting more serious. "We try to get in at the earliest possible point," he said.

SafeSpace will work to eliminate the stigma of seeking help for mental health, and educate youth and adults on how to recognize early signs of mental health problems.

SafeSpace will focus on working with high school students at first, Drazan said, and will partner with five or six local high schools, both public and private.

Veteran educator Lesley Martin, a former school principal who lives in Menlo Park, is helping make the connection with schools.

The group hopes to raise enough funds to cover three years of operation before opening the clinic.

"Our goal is to create something and prove its sustainability, and then take it to other places," Drazan said.

"We do not want to be those ladies who just throw fundraisers," Moldow said. "We want to change the world."

For more information, visit

Related content:

Teen psychiatric facility could open at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View

Santa Clara County commits $600K to youth mental-health center

Stanford creates new Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing

Resources: How to help those in crisis

When a teen is in a mental health crisis, what's working -- and what isn't

Why so few hospital beds for teens?

Simitian: Need for inpatient psych beds for teens is 'significant'

Santa Clara County supervisors approve study on youth psych beds

Guest Opinion: Time to act collaboratively for county's at-risk kids

Santa Clara County aims to open youth inpatient psych unit by mid-2016

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34 people like this
Posted by Good news
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

This is good news, and a really interesting potential model for the US and our area. A similar effort is in the works for Santa Clara County (hopefully in Palo Alto), being led by Dr. Steven Adelsheim at Stanford. Does anyone know the status of that initiative? Here's the article on it from June: Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Harold A. Maio
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 12, 2016 at 6:51 pm

---eliminate the stigma of seeking help for mental health

Do you ever wonder when we will stop teaching that prejudice?

3 people like this
Posted by A Staff Member at CHC
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 13, 2016 at 12:28 pm

This is great news for our community. Children's Health Council (CHC) is offering expanded therapy services to teens and their families as well and will soon provide a free Parent Advice Line. We are looking forward to collaborating with both SafeSpace and Stanford. By leveraging the power of our partnerships, we can all create more help and support for teens and families.

25 people like this
Posted by Insurance?
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2016 at 9:45 pm

Will either SafeSpace or CHC be accepting insurance payments? CHC currently does not.

25 people like this
Posted by Susan Bird
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 3:08 pm

Yes SafeSpace will be accepting insurance.

22 people like this
Posted by Insurance
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 3:57 pm

Susan said: "Yes SafeSpace will be accepting insurance."
That's wonderful news. Thank you! We absolutely need affordable mental health care for vulnerable youths in our community.

17 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2016 at 4:15 pm

I am a parent of teens and I too am very interested in the insurance issue. I’ve been to a few CHC parent education workshops and I’ve heard them mention that they have a sliding scale and that they are taking another look at using insurance. I’d like to learn more about both of these issues.

1 person likes this
Posted by CHC Staff
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 14, 2016 at 5:06 pm

CHC provides a sliding scale based on needs, not just income, offsetting the cost of services from 20-90%. The application process is simple, here’s a link: Web Link. We want to offer insurance as well. It’s been difficult due to the historical lack of parity in reimbursement rates for mental health. We are back in communication with insurance providers and are convening community leaders to work on achieving the same coverage as physical health.

We hope this helps you better understand our efforts and if you have ideas, questions or concerns we welcome them.

14 people like this
Posted by Gunn alumn
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 15, 2016 at 9:38 pm

Referring to what "Good news" posted, Dr. Adelsheim and Vicki Harrison have been working on this effort for Santa Clara County for quite some time. Here's a link to their site: Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Interesting
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 15, 2016 at 9:50 pm

Is this the same Chris Tanti in this article? Web Link

Interesting choice of a backer.

11 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 16, 2016 at 11:03 am

To get insurance coverage for mental health issues, you may need to apply to the California Department of Managed Health Care for an Independent Medical Review. Go to Web Link and print off an Independent Medical Review Application. (There are instructions for completing this process online, if so desired.). An IMR is a review of your claim by independent medical providers with expertise in the area of your health issue. IMRs are free to the consumer and are paid for by the consumer's insurance company.
It is an easy process and the DMHC actually assigns a case manager to oversee your case. I just got a text this morning from a parent who was notified that her insurance company's denial of her child's residential treatment was overturned. (My son was approved for 14 days of inpatient care but only stayed 10 days.)
I can't help but wonder if our hospitals use this supposed lack of insurance reimbursement as an excuse not to provide mental health services. None of the hospitals in our county (including our Children's Hospital at Stanford!) provide a single bed for any youth who needs mental health treatment.

9 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 16, 2016 at 11:11 am

From what I understand, SafeSpace and Dr. Adelsheim's "headspace" through Stanford are separate efforts for separate counties (San Mateo and Santa Clara, respectively). I hope they both succeed!

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

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