Teens need “headspace”: How teen drop-in centers provide brick-and-mortar and virtual access points to youth mental health services

by Robby Franceschini

March 11, 2019 — Teen mental illness, substance abuse, and suicides are on the rise across the globe, yet there are only a few stand-out companies tackling this population’s mental health problems. To address adolescent mental health needs, Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation created an innovative model called headspace that combines the traditional teen drop-in center with contemporary features such as virtual mental health therapy, job counseling, and substance use/abuse resources.

About the headspace model

The Australian government established headspace in 2006 to address gaps in youth access to mental health with a specific focus on early intervention. Since its inception, headspace has touched over 400,000 young people and provided over 2.5 million unique services. headspace serves as a hub for mental health and wellbeing resources for teens and young adults through three main points of access: headspace brick and mortar drop-in centers, eheadspace telehealth services, and headspace in schools.

Headspace, which serves 14 to 24 year olds, offers an array of services, including:

  • in-person primary care visits,
  • professional development and job placement,
  • early psychosis intervention,
  • virtual 1:1 and peer therapy, and
  • interprofessional consultations for providers in rural areas.


Bringing headspace to California

To address similarly distressing mental health trends among Silicon Valley’s youth, Stanford Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences sought to tailor headspace’s successful model to meet the needs of Santa Clara County youth. This group of youth mental health advocates secured funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Santa Clara County Department of Behavioral Health Services to design and implement headspace-like models throughout the county. Recently branded “allcove”, the core components of this model include a focus on mild to moderate mental health issues, integrated care, stand-alone physical locations, and direct marketing to adolescents and young adults. The first allcove site is slated to open in San Jose in late 2019.

Some state legislators have joined this movement to spread the headspace/allcove model across California. Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) has co-introduced a bill that would allocate state mental health dollars towards the effort to establish drop-in centers across California. Called the Integrated Youth Mental Health Program, this program would focus on creating one-stop sites for access to integrated care services, including mental health, physical health, substance use, and vocational resources, among others.

However, neither the allcove model nor the proposed Integrated Youth Mental Health Program yet include a critical element of headspaces’s success: the eheadspace telehealth component that meets teens where they are, virtually. Room exists to further advocate for the inclusion of telehealth in both these efforts to ensure teens’ mental health needs are adequately met.

Telehealth access to behavioral care is particularly critical to the success of this initiative given California’s current and future behavioral health providers shortage. The drop-in center model will expand demand for more mental health care, which can be met through the cost-effective and efficiency benefits of telehealth.