Calif. Offers Free Statewide Mental Health App to Students, Young Adults


Young people throughout the Golden State now have access to mental health and wellness services with just a tap of their phones.

The Soluna and BrightLife Kids mobile phone apps are free to all residents 25 and younger under California’s Department of Health Care Services’ (DHCS) new Behavioral Health Virtual Services Platform. This also includes the families of younger children who would assist with supervision. The five-year program began at the start of 2024 and will cost the state $680 million, according to DHCS Director of Strategic Partnerships Autumn Boylan.

“It complements the services already provided by schools,” she said. “It’s really about meeting the needs of youth.”

The variety of services available to users on either app includes live one-on-one meetings with wellness coaches (in English or Spanish), a resource library with guidance materials and wellness exercises, and connections to moderated peer communities that are supervised by certified behavioral health professionals, according to a news release last week.

Boylan said DHCS and the state education department are working with K-12 leaders in each of the state’s 58 counties to eventually make the apps available on school laptops and tablets and in school wellness centers.

Soluna, by the online counseling company Kooth, is for teens and young adults up to age 25, while BrightLife Kids, by the family mental health platform Brightline, is more applicable for children under 12 and their parents or caregivers. BrightLife also features mental wellness educational content in the form of stories, podcasts and videos. Families with multiple children varying in age can access both applications.

On either app, live coaching sessions are available by video or via chat mode. On BrightLife Kids, appointments are available Monday through Friday and must be scheduled in advance. For Soluna, appointments are available every day of the week, and users can either schedule in advance or “walk in” and wait in line, Boylan said.

The behavioral health and mental wellness topics addressed by these applications include dealing with worry and stress, improving mindfulness, and managing healthy sleep, eating, exercise and hygiene habits, Boylan said.

“The idea is to provide support before a person experiences a mental health crisis,” Boylan said, adding that both applications can provide direct connections to 24/7 crisis support services like 988.

The platform can also connect users with their health insurance plan, school or community-based services, and information on clinical care or care coordination services, according to the news release.

BrightLife Kids can be downloaded on iOS devices in the Apple App Store and will be available for Android phones by the end of June; it can also be obtained online at CalHOPE. Soluna is available in the Apple App Store or in the Google Play Store for both iOS and Android devices, according to the news release.

Boylan said she and other public employees involved with this project spent about two years interviewing parents, caregivers and over 300 students and young adults, individually or in focus groups, to get a better idea of their needs and the right approaches for improving their well-being. They reviewed about 450 different behavioral health tools and studied the success of a similar program in Philadelphia before selecting these two vendors and launching this program.

According to the California Health Interview Survey, about one-third of California teens experienced psychological distress between 2019 and 2021, and the state reported a 20-percent increase in adolescent suicides during that period.

Long wait times at community-based mental health practices are also a major concern, especially for the uninsured, low-income families, individuals with disabilities, and people of color, according to the news release.

“Our young people will have an accessible option to get the help they need,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said in a public statement. “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.”

Aaron Gifford

Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.

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