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A viable master plan for children’s mental health needs


Brightlife Kids and Soluna

For the past few years, the mental health crisis has been the focus of medical experts, and finding a solution to it is a priority. Gov. Gavin Newsom has played a part in California, being one of the leaders in dealing with the crisis. Newsom’s new addition to the CalHope program has now set a module for the nation to follow. 

In 2022, Newsom created the Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health to help combat the declining mental health of kids and young adults. According to the stats reported by Newsom’s camp, 284,000 kids cope with major depression, and 66% of kids with depression do not receive proper treatment. In 2021, the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported there were 4,181 suicide deaths for kids in California from 7 to 17 years old. Also, in the same year, drug overdoses for kids and young adults from the ages of 7 to 25 resulted in 10,901 deaths. 

Addressing youth suicide

Autumn Boylan, deputy director for Strategic Partnerships for the California Health Care Services Department (DHCS), pointed out that as time goes on, the advancement of technology plays a role in the increase of suicides among youth.

“The combination of advanced technology, social media, and the constant barrage of information can be detrimental to the development of kids as many develop imposter syndrome and a false sense of reality,” Boylan said. She also pointed out that everybody has some form of mental health issues, and young people, whether from regular life challenges or actual mental or behavioral health issues, need proper help and guidance. 

With these staggering numbers on file, Newsom allocated $4.7 billion in funding to increase the support of children and young adults ability to access better mental health services. “California is stepping up to tackle the mental health crisis facing kids across the country,” Newsom said. “We’re overhauling our mental health system with an unprecedented all-of-the-above approach to connect families with the care and support their kids need to grow healthier and stronger.”

The plan entails expanded clinics and treatment slots, the development of a child suicide prevention and crisis response hotline, an increased number of school counselors at all levels of education, and better infrastructure and staffing to support kids and young adults with severe mental and physical illness to provide them a safe and comfortable space. The plan also included adding a mental health care benefit to Medi-Cal clients; developing a dedicated workforce of 40,000 behavioral health professionals, and better training for teachers to identify mental deterioration early and have the necessary skills and tools to intervene. 

Meeting diverse needs of children

“About two-thirds of California kids with depression do not receive treatment. This platform will help meet the needs of California’s diverse children, youth, and families by expanding access to critical behavioral health supports. Our young people will have an accessible option to get the help they need,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health & Human Services Agency. “The Behavioral Health Virtual Services Platform will give children, adolescents, and young adults a new point of access to high-quality services to help them address behavioral health challenges early on, reducing the likelihood of escalation to more serious conditions and alleviating pressure on existing mental health care providers.”

Newsom also launched the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI), which funds $150 million to 262 mental health organizations and the wellness of children and young adults. The breakdown is that trauma-informed practices and programs received $100 million, while youth-driven programs that provide a safe space for youth and young adults (ages 12-25) receive $50 million with the hopes of expanding youth-driven community center programs. This initiative led to two behavioral health virtual services platforms for children, youth, and families called Brightlife Kids and Soluna.

“Kids, teens, and young adults are facing a mental health crisis. To make sure our youth have another path to access needed behavioral health services, the state is launching two new apps to give young Californians and their caregivers access to the professional help they need,” said DHCS Director Michelle Bass. “The tools are flexible and free for all California families, regardless of income, health insurance, or immigration status. I urge every young person and parent in California to visit the Soluna and Brightlife Kids apps to see if they are right for them.”

Brightlife Kids

Brightlife Kids is a website dedicated to helping parents and children from the ages of 0 to 12 with behavioral and mental health, creating a proper environment for growth and development, and an outlet for when life gets tough.

“We help parents determine the right course of action when it comes to helping their child with whatever problems and challenges they are having in their development,” said Amrita Sehgal, a rep for Brightlife Kids. “We offer an abundance of resources in our library, course videos on age and problem, and we also have online coaches trained in specific areas of issues and needs.” Parents can also select coaches based on comfort level, such as race, ethnic group, and language.

Brightlife Kids is an extension of Brightline, a company that has already been helping kids with mental and emotional issues. Brightlife Kids’ creation came about with CYBHI and is a CalHope program. The coaches involved with the program range in experience and role as some are licensed therapists, teachers, specialty teachers, and medical care experts. Brightlife Kids is a free program and doesn’t require medical insurance, citizenship, or income threshold.

Soluna is an extension of Kooth, the UK and now USA health care plan focused on providing therapeutics to fill gaps in behavioral health care and digital mental health programs. Soluna is a free app that’s dedicated to providing a safe community for people ranging from the ages of 13-25. “We focus on education and prevention and identify early warning signs in the youth. Our goal is to empower them and teach them to combat mental health.” Beth Pausic, a rep from Soluna, said as she explained what the app is for and how it benefits the youth. “ We help them develop skills and strategies to cope with mental health with our different features in the app.” 

Utilizing social media

The app has a content library providing users access to articles on mental illnesses and ways to identify the signs and solutions to cope with them. Another function is that Soluna’s interactive tools, like Thought Shaker, Starboard, Mood Log, and more, are research-backed functions and designed to bring calm, confidence, and focus. You also have a personal journal where you can freely write about whatever you want. The app also provides sessions with coaches in the community who specialize as health workers, peer specialists, substance misuse counselors, and behavioral health professionals.

Soluna has a message board in the app that allows users to share things about themselves and what they struggle with and comment on other user’s posts. This community board is moderated by moderators who check each post that is submitted and either approve or deny the post for violating community guidelines. The reason behind this is to eliminate trolls, bullies, and people who may post triggering things on the message board. 

“We ask people to have an open mind with the app as it is curated to the user’s needs and wants. Mental health is a serious matter, and we want to support people in supporting themselves and their health,” Pausic said. The Soluna app requires no information besides your name, age, and email. It is free to use and comes with language preferences for the app and coaches so it can be better suited for all users.