A yearslong effort to open a first-of-its-kind youth mental health center in Palo Alto reached a major milestone on Tuesday: approval of a lease for a physical space on Middlefield Road.
The Board of Supervisors approved a five-year lease for about 5,200 square feet of office space at 2741 Middlefield Road, a small retail center near Colorado Avenue.
This will be the future home of Allcove, a walk-in mental health clinic inspired by Australian centers that provide support services, education and other wellness resources at little to no cost to youth ages 12 to 25. It's expected to open by May.
"These innovative services, developed in consultation with the youth of our community, are important components of a continuum of mental health care that will hopefully bring critical early interventions services to our community," Steven Adelsheim, director of the Stanford University Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing, said in an announcement.
Adelsheim has been working with local mental health professionals, county staff and youth advocates to bring Allcove to life since 2016, spurred in part by a string of teenage deaths by suicide in Palo Alto. The county is also opening an Allcove site in San Jose, which it expects to be a "national prototype for international visitors, funders, and elected officials to tour."
The centers are meant to be one-stop shops for young people with mild to moderate mental health issues, from breakups, anxiety and academic stress to more severe mental illness. Substance abuse treatment, peer support and employment and educational support will also be available to teens.
The organizers describe Allcove as the first youth mental health center of its kind in the United States.
"Time after time, the saddest part of the story is that a kid didn't reach out earlier, didn't have the opportunity to get help when they really needed it," Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian said. "The appeal of programs like Allcove is that they're designed to engage youngsters who are struggling long before they hit a crisis point."
Stanford Medicine will provide psychiatric services at both the Palo Alto and San Jose locations, and Stanford will also provide primary care services in Palo Alto.
Jake Carreno, a Gunn High School senior who serves on a youth advisory group for Allcove, said he's hopeful the center will help alleviate the stigma teenagers feel in reaching out for help when they're struggling.
"It's really important for youth to know Allcove is a space where no matter what you're dealing with, you can drop in and talk to someone," he said. "You don't necessarily have to be diagnosed with something or know exactly what's going on. You can ... seek help no matter how big or small what you're dealing with is."
Carreno struggled to find mental health support as a sophomore when he fell into a depression after his parents got divorced. He went to Gunn's wellness center, but had to recount his story to several different counselors due to turnover. He eventually found an outside therapist through his doctor.
"It would have been nice to know there was one place I could go to that would handle it properly," Carreno said. "I remember not really knowing where to go."
The Board of Supervisors allocated $2.1 million for the Palo Alto lease and related improvements. Finding a suitable site that met the space requirements for the clinic in Palo Alto proved difficult; the county reviewed 30 potential sites and toured eight.
The Middlefield Road site is centrally located, near public transportation and offered a "competitive" rent for Palo Alto, according to a staff report. The first year of rent at the space will cost just under $268,000. The lease will run through October 2024 and includes two five-year extension options.
The clinic will be designed and operated with strong youth input, including from the 24-member youth advisory group (which selected the name Allcove).
Local and national statistics drive the importance of a mental health center like Allcove. One in five adolescents has a diagnosable mental disorder but less than half of adolescents with such disorders received any kind of treatment in the last year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Adolescent Health. A National Center for Children in Poverty report found that there are only about 8,000 people under the age of 25 years old using mental health services in Santa Clara County, while data suggests that among youth aged 11 to 17 alone, over 30,000 youth, should be accessing services.
"Local teens need these services now; we can't get it done soon enough," Simitian said.
The county is also working to build an adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose to address a longtime dearth of hospitalization options for local teens in mental health crisis, who are most often sent beyond the county's borders for inpatient psychiatric treatment.