Marin Nonprofit Boosts Access to Youth Mental Health
Oct 13, 2023
Ashley Boarman
The mid adult female high school guidance counselor smiles as she gives the two teen good news.

Resources for youth experiencing mental health struggles are not always available. In the absence of opportunities to share safely, teens can turn to unhealthy coping strategies like drugs and alcohol. They may also withdraw from school, hobbies and trusted family and friends. These behaviors – left unmanaged – often correlate to challenges in adulthood ranging from anxiety and depression to substance use issues or the inability to form meaningful social connections.

North Marin Community Services is committed to increasing youth mental and physical health services in Marin County, located just north of San Francisco. A new survey released by the organization shows progress to improve the outlook for adolescents through its community- and school-based enrichment programs. To support this work, Sutter Health, which operates Sutter’s Novato Community Hospital in the area, recently gave $50,000. Since 2002, Sutter says it’s given $343,000 to the nonprofit.

The North Marin organization’s chief executive officer Cheryl Paddack advises that teens who access services through NMCS are able to connect with the nonprofit’s Novato Teen Clinic and Peer Health Promoters group. These services empower teens to develop life skills and confidence and helps them create a foundation to be successful at home, at school and in life. Paddack says, “When we enable healthy minds and bodies, we’re able to build stronger families and ultimately stronger communities.”

Bindi Gandhi, Sutter’s Bay Area community health director, says, “Sutter is committed to investing in community-based initiatives that bring greater access to mental and behavioral health services.” She says Sutter upped its investment this year based on Marin’s 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment. This latest report underscored teens rising substance use issues, a need for more trained counselors and therapists in schools, not enough after-school recreational opportunities and more linguistically and culturally appropriate services for unhoused and at-risk youth.

Group of men and women standing on a deck.

North Marin Community Services staff.

Moving the Needle on Youth Mental Health

Since 1988, NMCS has provided trauma-informed and healing-centered mental health services to children, adolescents, families and adults living in Marin. The nonprofit’s services are provided in schools, at its brick-and-mortar community mental health clinic and through its Novato Teen Clinic, held in partnership with Marin Community Clinics.

During the 2022-23 school year, NMCS served 368 students and 246 family members across five of Novato Unified School District’s campuses. An additional 209 teens and transitional age youth also received services through the group’s Novato Teen Clinic at no cost. The most common problems youth cited to their therapist were depression, anxiety (including panic or stress-related disorders), trauma-related disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders (autism spectrum disorder and ADHD).

Young Hispanic man listening to mid adult woman mental health professional while sitting on sofa. They are conversing about his mental wellbeing.

North Marin Community Services’ Novato Teen Clinic offers confidential services in English and Spanish. The nonprofit’s staff is LGBTQIA+ knowledgeable and experienced. North Marin Community Services has been partnering to provide low and no cost health services.

In the organization’s annual feedback survey, 92% of youth who received mental health services through NMCS reported they are now better able to cope when things go wrong and better advocate for their needs and what is important to them. Parents and caregivers also reported that, as a result of services received, their child has built stronger relationships with family, friends and teachers, as well as their child being more connected to their school and the community.

NMCS reported that a total of 785 people accessed therapy through the group, and 100% agreed or strongly agreed their NMCS therapist respected their identity (i.e., ethnic/cultural/religious background, sexual orientation, gender identity), making them feel safe and seen, and likely to seek out talking to a therapist again.

“Partnerships are critical to ensuring a continuum of care for our most vulnerable children and families. We are grateful for our 21-year partnership with Sutter Health, which plays a valuable role in helping us meet the needs of our community,” expressed Paddack.

Gandhi adds, “Sutter Health is proud to support North Marin Community Services work to give Marin teens a bright future.”

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