New Palo Alto teen clinic offers drop-in, accessible mental health care

STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTOS BY ARYA NASIKKAR

Teens in the Palo Alto area now have access to a groundbreaking walk-in mental health clinic, allcove, a newly-opened network of integrated youth mental health centers. Recently launched alongside a location in San Jose, allcove’s Palo Alto location provides free or low-cost walk-in mental health services for youth aged 12 to 25.

allcove — which is run by Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services in collaboration with multiple agencies, including Stanford’s Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing — reimagines how mental health issues in the community are addressed through an approach of early intervention.

This approach diverges from traditional mental health services, specifically targeting a demographic of youth and aiming to prevent the progression of mental health issues as opposed to mainly treating patients with problems of high severity. 

allcove’s opening is the product of years of planning and preparation to bring the unique clinic model, which was inspired by similar programs in Australia, to the United States.

“Having a space for young people, up to 25, which is when many mental health conditions have sort of shown themselves, becomes an important age period to be able to do early intervention for mental health–related issues,” said clinical professor and Associate Chair for Community Engagement Dr. Steven Adelsheim. 

Each allcove clinic offers physical and mental health support through services ranging from advice and treatments regarding physical and sexual health to counseling, support groups and substance use services. Professionals provide both medical and emotional advice and treatment.

Patients may schedule an appointment with their local allcove center in advance or simply walk in, where they can tour the space and team members assist them in determining which services meet their needs. Patients are not required to be accompanied by guardians, although allcove encourages involving supportive family members. 

The majority of services offered by allcove do not require parent or guardian consent, and services which do are disclosed by team members. Visits are always confidential, unless any information shared threatens the safety of the individual or someone else.

Due to its commitment to prevention and early intervention, allcove is designed to be a short-term service, however, allcove centers work with pre-existing mental health programs, such as those in schools and within the community, and refer individuals to long-term services which will meet their specific needs.

“We also want to be able to connect people to other services they might need in the community, whether it’s support for housing, or for more intensive mental health services.” Adelsheim said. “Complex mental health [support] needs to be able to be a place where we can link people to other services and support they want.”

Local youth voices play an integral role in shaping allcove through their involvement in the decision making process. Youth advisory groups, consisting of local teens work alongside experts and have a large influence in determining allcove’s design, atmosphere and the support groups offered, among other aspects.

“What’s really critical is the voice of young people on the development of the services and the name and the design, and the idea that this space is reflective of the voice and needs and wants of the young people of our community,” Adelsheim said.

By creating “an environment designed by and for young people,” Adelsheim said that allcove facilitates a comfortable space for young people to talk about mental health and is able to better assist individuals seeking support within the community.

Through its services, allcove aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, a barrier which often leads to people to neglect their mental health issues, and not seek help until they face a crisis.

“Within many of our cultures and families, there is a lot of stigma around accessing mental health services,” Adelsheim said, “We want to break through that and create comfortable spaces where young people feel okay about going in early.”

According to Adelsheim, more allcove sites within California communities are currently in the works, and allcove hopes that this mental health model spreads beyond the state.

“We’re creating a space where young people are going to walk in and feel more like it’s for them, instead of some typical mental health clinic,” Adelsheim said.

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