Life can be tough, and for teenagers, it can be even tougher. Teens already deal with a lot of challenges: peer pressure, hormonal changes and even cyber bullying, so if something more serious creeps in, such as depression or substance abuse, things can quickly become overwhelming.
Because teenagers are still developing, it can be easy for their parents and caregivers to overlook signs pointing to mental health issues. “Make sure you’re checking in with your teenager if you notice changes in behavior, dress, communication, friends, mood, school or work,” said Mary Denton, CEO of Side by Side. “It’s important for young people to feel seen and heard. Unfortunately, they can get so much negative feedback and information on social media and often don’t have the outlets to talk about the hard stuff.”
Even if changes are perfectly normal, it’s important to keep a close eye on their behavior. “Even if the change isn’t indicative of a broader mental health issue, checking in with them could help to prevent issues from developing,” adds Denton. Parents and caregivers of teens and children should always keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with getting professional help for a young person struggling with behavioral and mental health issues.
These issues have become all the more important to address in a time when young people have been increasingly involved in incidents leading to tragedy. Fortunately, the Bay Area has an extensive network of organizations providing support for teenagers and their families as they tackle these challenging issues, headed by leaders in the community who are passionate about improving the lives of younger people.
Here are some of the leaders and organizations that are providing assistance for young people across the Bay Area:
Alameda Family Services, serving Alameda County, is a community-oriented, behavioral health and early childhood development agency focused on prevention, healing and wellness. It strives to deliver effective interventions and offer the tools and strategies necessary to weather the bumps in the road of life. It is headed by Executive Director Katherine Schwartz.
Covenant House in Alameda County is dedicated to serving homeless youth ages 13 to 18 by meeting their basic needs of shelter, food, clothing and medical services. Along with these services, the organization’s DreamCatcher program is dedicated to healing the mental trauma that comes with homelessness, and preparing at-risk youth for entry into the world when they come of age. One-third of DreamCatcher’s graduates return to work on staff at Covenant House as mentors to others. It is led by Bill Bedrossian, CEO, whose passion for working with youth came about through own parents, who adopted 8 of his 11 siblings through the child welfare system.
Based in San Leandro, Davis Street is a community-centric clinic serving Alameda County’s Eden Area. While offering a variety of integrated services designed to improve quality of life for those of all ages, Davis addresses behavioral health in youth, offering individual and family therapy services, crisis intervention, mental health screenings and substance abuse referrals. It also provides mental health services to several San Leandro School District elementary, middle and high schools. Its longtime executive director, Rose Padilla Johnson, has been instrumental in growing Davis Street from a small operation to one that now serves thousands annually.
Youth UpRising was established in response to the increase in violent activity in East Oakland occurring in the late ‘90s. Its youth leadership development program, which includes mental health services, is part of its bigger picture to transform the East Oakland community into a healthier and safer place to live. Its programs have been successful in reducing violent behavior in more than 80% of its youth members, and it teaches healthy coping mechanisms in response to violence, substance abuse and other maladies. Sharon Brown, the organization’s chief operating officer, is now in charge, but in 2016, the former head of Youth UpRising was honored by the White House as a champion of change.
Buckelew, serving Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, promotes recovery and hope through a variety of programs, ranging from behavioral health support to services addressing homelessness. It assists people of all ages with mental health, addiction and other challenges, including its counseling program that offers weekly therapy sessions for adults, teens and children in need of behavioral health support. It also operates a 24/7 confidential suicide prevention hotline. Chris Kughn, L.M.F.T., was recently appointed as Buckelew’s CEO.
Those seeking help in Marin County can tap into the Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) Division of the Marin Health and Human Services Department. This division offers prevention and early intervention, suicide prevention and crisis services to all residents of Marin County. It has a dedicated child, adolescent and family subdivision that provides screenings, referrals, treatment, a youth medication clinic and support for family members of clients. BHRS is led by Dr. Jei Africa, a clinician and thought leader passionate about integrating culturally responsible practices into the county’s health services.
Newport Academy offers private healing centers for teens, young adults, and families struggling with mental health issues. With locations in Marin, Pleasanton, Castro Valley, San Geronimo and San Rafael as well as across the United States, Newport Academy’s family-systems approach encompass clinical therapy, academic support and experiential practices. It offers residential treatment centers as well as outpatient programs and therapeutic day schools. Its Northern California Executive Director, Dr. Jennifer MacLeamy, was instrumental in establishing the organization in the Bay Area.
Formerly Sunny Hills Services, Side by Side serves youth beginning at age 5 and up to age 26 in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Alameda counties, offering behavioral and mental health support and therapy for youth and their families. It also offers an early intervention program for youth expressing troubling behavior, a LGBTQ support program, and the only special education non-public K-12 school in Marin designed for students with behavioral and mental health challenges. Mary Denton, Side by Side’s CEO, has served since 2010 and is proficient in both Spanish and French.
The 130-year old Felton Institute is named after Katharine “Kitty” Felton, a dedicated and maverick director known for tirelessly working to help children and families in need. Today, the Felton Institute is the oldest non-profit social service provider in San Francisco, with a special mission of serving low-income, at-risk individuals. It offers a range of services for children and youth ages four to 21 and their families, including outpatient behavioral/mental health and case management services. Its CEO, Al Gilbert, is passionate about using the best evidence-based practices available to engage with those facing mental health challenges.
Horizons, situated in San Francisco’s Mission District, offers substance abuse prevention and treatment services, mental health services and behavior risk assessments for Latino youth and other youth of color, with programs offered in both English and Spanish. Since 1965, it has been the access point for more than 250,000 native, immigrant and newcomer youth and their families, with a focus on a Latino-centric approach. Celina Lucero, who has served as Executive Director since 2015, first joined Horizons as a youth worker more than 25 years ago.
Created specifically to assist teens 12 –17 with mental health challenges, Evolve operates two Bay Area treatment centers in Danville and San Jose. Each center offers intensive and personalized support for just about any issue, ranging from alcohol addiction to suicidality. Levels of care range from a half-day outpatient program to full-time residential care, depending on location. All clinical services are led and overseen by Dr. Lauren Kerwin, Ph.D.
Here are a few additional articles about issues relating to teens and mental illness.
Donna Berry Glass is a freelance writer in Marin County who writes mostly about family and kid-oriented topics. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family exploring the natural beauty of Marin, snuggling with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel while reading a good book or whipping up something delicious in her space-challenged kitchen. Donna is a supporter of the California Academy of Sciences, a world class science museum and research institution, and the Institute on Aging which provides much needed services to seniors and disabled individuals.