Stress, anxiety and other mental health issues have become increasingly common in teenagers across the nation, prompting Allcove, a network of standalone, integrated youth mental health centers, to pilot one of its first centers in Palo Alto.
Allcove’s public, walk-in mental health center geared for ages 12-25 is expected to open in May 2020 on 2741 Middlefield Road at Midtown Shopping Center, two blocks away from Greene Middle School.
Ana Lilia Soto, Allcove’s youth outreach specialist, helped facilitate youth involvement in Allcove through a youth advisory board composed of racially, culturally and socioeconomically diverse 16-25 year olds from the area. Through this board, she hopes to receive valuable input and to ultimately use the board’s insight to create a service to cater to all teenagers’ needs.
“These youth were asked to envision a center that would ensure that youth would engage with and recognize (the center) as a place to connect with themselves,” Soto said. “They have been active in choosing the site locations assessing safety and access, part of the evaluation system as we look at outcomes and sustainability and will now work on the design of the centers.”
Stanford clinical professor Dr. Steven Adelsheim, partnered Allcove with Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services, Soto said.
Subsequently, Allcove applied for Mental Health Services Act Innovation funding, they were approved in August 2018 to open two sites in Santa Clara County.
Allcove, originally inspired by the Australian meditative mental health app Headspace, aims to holistically serve the mental health needs of youth and provides a wide array of support systems in a judgement-free zone, according to their website.
Senior Ellie Fitton, a member of the Allcove Youth Advisory Board, works alongside Soto and other board members to reimagine youth mental health services in the U.S.
“(The Center is) basically to create a space where (teenagers) can get primary health care, but then also be free of judgment, so it’s redesigning health seeking (for teenagers),” Fitton said.
The center will be free and will not require parental consent for teens looking for help with mild to moderate mental health issues, Planned Parenthood services such as sexual health counselling and sexual health testing, therapy, employment services, substance-use counselling and relationship counselling, all tailored to target the specific needs of the Palo Alto community.
As compared to on-site school mental health services, Allcove is more discreet and privatized, according to Fitton.
“Our high schools have given (students) a lot of resources in the past couple years , but I think having a center like this you wouldn’t immediately know from the name ‘Allcove’ that it’s a mental health center, so it’s very private and judgement free,” Fitton said.
The space offers students the capacity to compartmentalize their school life and personal life rather than having to risk social or emotional turmoil that can come with having mental health services on campus, possibly garnering unwanted attention, according to Fitton.
“Some people don’t like getting that call slip to go to the school counselor as there’s stigma around that,” Fitton said. “They feel judged getting that call slip in class, and people just won’t go out of their way.”
With teenage suicide rates at the highest level ever according to a 2019 report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Phebe Cox, a Gunn senior on Allcove’s Youth Advisory Board, said services like Allcove are more necessary than ever before.
“There’s evidently a need for more support in our community for youth, especially more preventative care within the mental health system,” Cox said. “We want to create a space where everyone feels safe and valid, regardless of which services they’re seeking.”