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California to offer new mental health service for teens and young adults with free app
Sacramento Bee - 11/15/2023
California will offer an anonymous and free mental health app for teens to young adults starting early next year.
The program is now being tested in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties but will be available statewide starting Jan. 1 for those ages 13 to 25, according to the App Store.
CalHOPE is a crisis support program funded by the California Department of Health Care Services to support communities impacted by a national disaster, according to the program’s website.
Though the department did not state why Stanislaus and San Joaquin were chosen for the beta app, the purpose for this limit is to test the app’s features and to obtain user feedback before the statewide launch, according to a statement from the DHCS response team.
The beta app, CalHOPE Youth (a placeholder name), allows for eligible individuals to access services including a personal journal, interactive tools, anonymous chats with other users and educational content.
“Whether you need to talk to someone, or simply keep on top of your mental health, our free app gives you the tools to feel your best,” CalHOPE states on its website.
The app is part of the state’s Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative to address the mental health needs of families, according to a statement from the DHCS response team.
The five-year initiative , with a $4.6 billion budget, works to provide access to mental health services and substance use support. “It aims to establish a more integrated, youth-centered system of care,” the DHCS statement said.
How does the app work?
To access the app’s free services, a user will have to first input ZIP code and age to verify eligibility, according to the CalHOPE website. Then, to keep the user anonymous, the app asks for no further information.
Any information shared on the app will remain private from everyone, including parents, schools and health care professionals, the website states.
“What you do on CalHOPE Youth stays with us. We are a confidential service and will never share your data without express permission,” CalHOPE states on its website.
Though eligible minors can access the app, federal law does not require websites, online services and mobile apps for children to have parental consent if they are over age 13, according to California’s Department of Justice.
How will minors be monitored while using the app?
Users can chat anonymously with others in the community, according to the CalHOPE Youth website.
“All chats are delivered and moderated by a team of qualified practitioners who have extensive experience in dealing with youth behavioral health issues and who are overseen by a team of licensed clinical professionals,” the DHCS response team wrote.
With the service being digital, the team said chats will be monitored to ensure a user’s safety and experience.
The response team said the app’s moderators will monitor all activities to identify if any user is deemed at high risk for harming themselves or others.
“In this instance, there are robust safety and escalation processes that are followed,” the team wrote.
If a moderator senses potential danger, a licensed clinical professional would intervene directly with the user or help them find the most appropriate external service to support them, the team said.
“The goal of the behavioral health virtual service platform is to deliver a population health strategy to give young people access to digital behavioral health services when/where they need it,” the team wrote.
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