Palo Alto teens and families looking for mental health services that fall between occasional therapy and hospitalization soon will have that option.
With the help of an anonymous donor interested in reducing the number of teen suicides, the nonprofit Children’s Health Council has launched a 12-week Intensive Outpatient Program at its Palo Alto campus at 650 Clark Way.
The outpatient program starts May 8. It will serve teens 14 to 18 years old with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, self-harm behaviors or suicidal thoughts.
The program will run Mondays to Thursdays from 3 to 6:15 p.m., catering to eight teens at a time. The agency accepts insurance, and requests for intake are granted on a rolling basis as spots open.
Dr. Ramsey Khasho, director of The Center at Children’s Health Council, said the agency is excited to offer a new program that fills a critical gap in teen mental health services in the community.
“Some teens find that going to see a therapist once a week is helpful but when that level of care isn’t enough, we refer them to IOP programs,” said Khasho, who also is director of clinical services at Sand Hill School at Children’s Health Council.
The program will be a “step up” in the level of support for teens when weekly or monthly outpatient care is not enough and acute symptoms materialize, Khasho said.
The program also serves as a “step down” for teens recently discharged from psychiatric inpatient stays.
“A risky time for youth is in these transition periods for services, when they’re stepping from inpatient care to a more outpatient service,” Khasho said. “Oftentimes there’s a lack of coordination between care or difficulty accessing care, and that period is oftentimes when youths fall through the cracks or they’re not receiving the level of service that they need. IOP is an appropriate next best step for those youth.”
The agency decided last year to launch the program after interviewing dozens of parents, teachers, hospital staff and health care providers to see what mental health services are needed in the community.
The most common concern is that there aren’t enough “middle ground” outpatient programs, and the closest ones are in Mountain View and San Mateo, Khasho said.
For families seeking mental health care, convenience is critical.
“These are families that are very stressed,” Khasho said. “They have a lot going on. They are handling and supporting a young person who is in acute need, so sometimes the idea of traveling, even if it’s 10 miles out, is very daunting. So again, the idea of having something more local is helpful for families experiencing social-psycho stressors.”
Teens in the program will participate in individual therapy and group psychotherapy, get clinical support and meet with a psychiatrist for medication management, if applicable.
Khasho said the teens will get to know each other well.
“Part of the benefit of the group setting is to learn together, to be able to share together, to be vulnerable together, to help support each other,” Khasho said. “As we know, teens really benefit from hearing and getting feedback from other teens rather than just adults.”
Nadia Ghaffari, a junior at Los Altos High School who serves on the agency’s teen-focused and teen-operated Teen Mental Health Committee, agrees that the new program is much needed, especially for those who need more than just a weekly or monthly therapy session but not hospital-level care.
Ghaffari also urges families to connect with the Children’s Health Council and take advantage of its consultation services and free community classes — or at least be aware that such services are available.
As a way to address the affordability of mental health care, the agency provides free 30-minute consultations to help families figure out what level of care their teen needs. The agency also offers 12 teen-focused classes, also free, as part of its community education program.
“When you’re in crisis, you’re in a panic sometimes and it’s hard to think through what resources there are and where you should look,” Ghaffari said. “It’s much easier to know you have something to go to that you can trust and rely on.”
To learn more about Children’s Health Council services and inquire about the Intensive Outpatient Program, call 650-688-3625, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.chconline.org.
HELP IS AVAILABLE
Call the Santa Clara County Suicide and Crisis Hotline, available 24/7, at 855-278-4204, or the California Youth Crisis Line at 800-843-5200. You can also reach a Crisis Text Line volunteer counselor, a free and confidential service, by texting the word, “BAY,” to 741741.