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California launches apps to help youth manage their mental health

California’s Department of Health Care Services this month launched two smartphone apps to help kids, teens and young adults manage their mental health. The apps are free and do not require insurance or referrals.

They are part of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health. A portion of that $4.6 billion state investment was used to create the two app-based programs: BrightLife Kids for children up to 12 years old and Soluna for 13- to 25-year-olds.

Each app offers live, professional coaching through in-app chat, video visits or by phone in English and Spanish with live translation services in Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Korean, Armenian, Russian, Farsi, Japanese, Arabic, Cambodian, Hindi, Hmong, Thai, Laotian, Punjabi, Mien and Ukrainian.


The state said both apps are secure and confidential, and all activity is supervised by licensed clinical practitioners.

Why it matters

U.S. Centers for Disease Control data show a nationwide increase in anxiety, depression, suicide and self-harm among youth over the last decade.

These programs are part of the state’s strategy to address mounting issues facing California’s youth, said Autumn Boylan a deputy director with the California Department of Health Services.

“About one third of California adolescents express that they've experienced serious psychological distress between 2019 and 2021. And during that same time period there was a 20% increase in adolescent suicide,” Boylan said.

By the numbers

There are more than 13 million eligible youth statewide according to the state.


“There is a shortage of behavioral health providers in the State of California and nationally as well," Boylan said. "This really gives an opportunity for us to reach families by expanding the types of providers that are able to provide support across the delivery system.”

Closer look

San Diego Psychological Association President and psychologist Debra Halliday, who is not directly involved with the project, said she thinks the platform will contribute to prevention.

“How do we talk to people before it gets so bad? Let people feel that there's a supportive community that's out there to help them,” Halliday said.

The apps took about two years to create and the development process included input from over 300 youth, Boylan said.

San Diego Access and Crisis Line: (888) 724-7240

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255; Spanish: 1-888-628-9454

While both of the apps have direct access to crisis services, Halliday said she appreciated that they aren’t just for crisis intervention and can be used for everyday challenges.

“There's a soft line. 'Do you just need to talk to somebody?' Maybe you don't have suicidal thoughts, but you really are feeling alone. There is a button you can push and bam, you're talking to somebody," Halliday said, "If you are having suicidal thoughts, you don't just have to go to the emergency room. You can talk to somebody, that's a whole other line. So its levels of acuity are being addressed.”

Looking ahead

Halliday offered guidance for parents looking for signs their children are struggling.

“When you're paying attention to your children, you'll be able to see signs," she said. "Are they withdrawing? Are they more teary-eyed? Are they no longer playing with the friends they used to? Are they ignoring attempts to come down for dinner? Are they completely addicted to their social media?”

Both the BrightLife Kids and Soluna apps are available to download on any smartphone. For more information about the program go to

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