Earlier this year, the Palo Alto Children's Health Council launched the CHC Teen Mental Health Initiative, designed to meet the needs of teens affected by mental health issues -- anxiety and depression in particular. The initiative provides education on mental health and the stigma surrounding it, easier access to affordable teen therapy and community leadership and engagement.
The Palo Alto Weekly awarded the nonprofit a $10,000 Holiday Fund grant this past year to boost the initiative's efforts.
The initiative was prompted by a parent of a child who had died by suicide. The parent expressed concern about the viability of teen mental health services in Palo Alto, said Dr. Ramsey Khasho, director of The Center at CHC.
The initiative is working with community leaders, teachers and school counselors to figure out exactly how to combat teen anxiety and depression, he said.
"We are pulling people from the community to find gaps and needs," he said, adding that a full understanding of the landscape of teen mental health will be key to the initiative's success. The nonprofit has also bulked up its staff, adding a new teen psychiatrist as well as several therapists and a community liaison who will travel to local schools to better understand their needs.
The Health Council is also collaborating with parents, community leaders and teenagers to create effective classes about mental health suitable for people of any age.
"The classes are very well-attended so far," said Dr. Rosalie Whitlock, CHC executive director, who added that the classes are vital to the recovery of the teens as well as to parents.
"Parents need help in identifying the signs of serious anxiety and depression. ... They need to know it is okay to talk about."
Khasho emphasized the key role education plays.
"We believe that mental health education is just as important and necessary as other valuable concepts of human development such as sex education," he stated in a press release.
While these steps are vital to the program's success they need to be accessible and affordable for families. The organization has implemented a sliding payment scale for some families who need extensive treatment. CHC is also actively working on improving its accessibility by adding programs such as an Intensive Outpatient Program, which is designed to prevent the possibility of teens harming themselves, and a teen advice line and virtual therapy.
Also in the works is a plan to implement a yearly symposium for teens, parents and educators, as well as a plan to partner with other similar groups like Palo Alto youth-wellbeing collaborative Project Safety Net so as to make sure the community is receiving consistent care.
"The goal is to see what we can do when working together to make the system of care easier for families," Khasho said, adding that he expects to continue making more and more progress in finding actionable solutions to the needs of local teens.
Additionally, the CHC plans to expand its community engagement by creating a Midpeninsula-wide team that will convene regularly to drive progress and accountability.
With an undertaking as large as this one, sustainable funding is paramount in having these teens receive the care that they need.
"Since we have started (the initiative) I have seen so much more how vital this is," Whitlock said, adding, "It is highly dependent on major donors and grants."
Learn more about the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, including the agencies that received grants this year and ways to donate, at the Holiday Fund page.