Supporting youth mental health: Listening is a superpower
August 31, 2023

Originally Published in the Napa Valley Features on August 28th, 2023

Read Original Article Here

By Jeni Olsen, Mentis Prevention Director

NAPA, Calif. — I’m more popular in high school now than I was when I was in high school. As I mentioned in my last column, I struggled with depression and suicide ideation throughout my teen years. I didn’t know how to be myself, connect with others or seek help for my mental health struggles. I felt awkward and alone. Today I build programs that I needed back then. Because I don’t know what it’s like being a teen today, I spend a lot of time listening.

I listen to understand. I don’t listen to give answers or solve problems. Teens need more listeners and fewer preachers. What our young people see, feel and experience today breaks my heart. These are some of the things I’ve heard from listening to thousands of young people since starting my nonprofit.

Youth feel a constant pressure to have everything figured out. To know what they want to be when they grow up. To succeed academically, to be the best at sports, music, art and other extracurriculars. To be perfect. To do all the extra things to stand out on college applications. To get into college, which becomes more competitive every year. They feel pressure to look a certain way, to fit in, to have a lot of friends, to have sex, to try drugs, to give in to peer pressure. Social media fuels their feelings of not being good enough. It increases feelings of isolation, social anxiety and depression. It also exposes our young people to violent content.

Moreover, youth today feel helpless and overwhelmed about the state of the world. They fear being shot at school, the aftereffects of COVID-19, devastating wildfires. Mixed messages due to our divided political landscape create more confusion. Young people today are especially worried about climate change. Climate anxiety, also referred to as eco-anxiety, refers to distressing feelings related to the impacts of climate change. The consequences of climate-related distress are profound and can be debilitating.

Youth want and need to be accepted and validated for who they are, regardless of their skin color, gender and sexual orientation, religion, country of origin or abilities. They need social connection, safe places and supportive people to hang out with. They need to be seen and heard. And sometimes they need outside support.

Aside from fixing global and climate issues, how do we give our youth what they need to thrive?

teens sitting around in lawn chairs

We start by listening.

Being a good listener doesn’t come naturally for everyone. I still make mistakes. I was having a conversation with a teenager a few weeks ago in which she was sharing about her struggles, and I made a big mistake. I gave advice without being asked, and it stopped the conversation almost immediately.

Learning how to be a good listener may take some effort, but trust me, it’s worth it. Active, authentic listening improves communication, strengthens relationships and builds trust. If you’d like to improve your listening skills there is plenty of information out there. A quick search on the Psychology Today website produced dozens of articles about the art of listening.

I learned a lot about listening while raising my boys. My older son has always struggled with his mental health and was recently diagnosed with autism. When he was younger we got to a place where he’d come to me and say, “Mom, I’m not feeling well mentally.” This was the perfect conversation opener, and I’d take time to sit with him and listen to what he was feeling. It’s important to ask your kids, “How’s your mental health?” and not just ask them questions about homework, friends, their future and other subjects that may make them feel more anxious. Check in with them — often.

Be prepared that your teens may not want to open up to you about their feelings if you are their parent or caregiver. It’s important that youth have a support system of people they can consistently rely on, and this should include supportive non-parent adults. This adult can be a teacher, a coach, a mentor, an extended family member, a counselor or therapist.

If you’re like me, you may have a hard time accepting that summer is over. The positive side of this is that our schools in Napa County offer quite a bit of support for our youth. The secondary schools have resources available through wellness centers or counseling offices. Do your research now so you know where to get help if/when your teen needs it.

Here’s a tip for parents with children starting college — identify support available on college campuses sooner rather than later. Many community colleges and universities have wellness centers and mental health staff. Napa Valley College has a full-time therapist embedded in their counseling office.

Outside of school our Mentis Youth Resource Database offers connection to local organizations providing mental-health services, wellness and prevention programs for youth.

If your teen is craving social connection, encourage them to check out student-led clubs on their school campus or learn more about our Mentis Teens Connect program. Teens Connect is an inclusive group of compassionate young people, open to youth ages 13-19. There are many ways to get involved with activities that focus on caring for self, others and the community.

In my next column I look forward to sharing more about how to create authentic connections with youth and how to advocate for your children when they need additional support.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

If you or someone you love needs mental health or wellness support, please visit our Mentis Youth Resource Database.

As the founder of Teens Connect and director of Mentis’ Prevention Division, Jeni Olsen manages youth wellness programs through a mental-health lens together with local teenagers and her prevention team. As a director, speaker and writer she is often sought out for her in-depth expertise around teens and her forward-thinking, collaborative approach to supporting youth and their complex needs.


Supporting youth mental health: how it started, how it’s going
July 20, 2023

By Jeni Olsen

Originally published in Napa Valley Features on July 20th, 2023

NAPA, Calif. — Over the past six years hundreds of parents and caregivers have reached out to me for advice about how to support their struggling teenagers. This is not something I expected to happen when I started my tiny nonprofit, Teens Connect, with a mission to support youth mental health and wellness (Teens Connect has since merged with Mentis, Napa’s Center for Mental Health). I’m not a social worker or a counselor or a teacher. I’m a graphic designer by trade, which requires a very different skill set from what it takes to support youth mental health. However, I have become someone people trust when it comes to teens, not because I went to school to learn what I know but because I have spent the last six years really, truly listening to them.

Napa lost two teenagers to suicide in 2016. Back then I was running my design business and spending my free time helping my son, Max, and his middle-school friends connect to volunteer projects. Through volunteering, they learned how to think beyond their personal needs and to consider the needs of others. They became more self-aware and unlocked their innate empathy, they learned how to support each other when they witnessed hard things, and they gained a new perspective on the world. I loved facilitating this process of self-discovery, and once I designed a project, I simply got out of the way and let the magic unfold.

The tragic losses to suicide left our community wondering what was going on with youth in Napa, and at the same time the conversation about the blossoming youth mental health crisis was happening at a national level. I knew the painful reality of being a teenager because I struggled with depression and suicide ideation throughout my teen years. I felt called to help at a higher level.

Because I had no idea what it feels like to be a teenager today, I went directly to the young people I was working with and asked them. And wow, did they answer. I learned that a big percentage of our youth were struggling with crippling anxiety, debilitating depression, unhealed trauma and a plethora of unhealthy coping mechanisms. This prompted me to dive deeper and ask more young people what was going on. Within a year I gave up my successful design business and started Teens Connect.

headshot of Jeni

Jeni Olsen – Nic Meerholz, Sea Timber Media Photo

“You Matter” heart Teens shared chalked messages of hope last September for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – David Schloss, Inventive Filming Photo

Since then I’ve devoted my life to understanding what our teens are going through, co-creating safe spaces and people with whom our young people could connect and working with Mentis to build a continuum of programs that support youth mental health. Merging with Mentis and starting a Prevention Division gave me a bigger platform from which to run my programs as well as a team of incredible mental health therapists who specialize in working with youth. Together our team has had a positive impact on more than 12,000 youth in Napa County. And an unintended positive benefit of this work is that I am healing my inner teen. I’m designing programs that I needed back then.

 There is national consensus that our country is experiencing a youth mental health crisis. The pandemic has been an exacerbating factor, but even before COVID in 2019 more than one in three U.S. high school students reported they had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the prior year, a 40% increase from a decade earlier, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over the past two years the U.S. surgeon general has issued several warnings about the youth mental health crisis. This data mirrors what our local teenagers are feeling. The 2021-2022 California Healthy Kids Survey shows that 40% of Napa County high school students reported that they felt chronically sad or hopeless in the prior year, and that 17.5% of Napa County high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide. The numbers are much higher among our LGBTQ+ students.

Our programs at Mentis offer a unique and comprehensive approach to mental health care that utilizes both professional and peer-based support to empower youth to reduce stigma around mental health, promote help-seeking behaviors for themselves and their peers, learn tools for resilience and seek treatment when necessary. We have scaled our solution by building strong partnerships with our Napa County schools to address the youth mental health crisis. Now more

than ever, mental health services that build resilience, address trauma, and help students manage their anxiety and depression are critical to young people’s ability to cope and thrive.

In the coming months I look forward to sharing my thoughts and opinions about how to have authentic conversations with youth, the importance of focusing on character rather than achievement and how we can all advocate for teens when they need professional mental health support. You’ll hear from local youth about what they need and want from adults to feel safe and supported, as well as their hopes and dreams for the present and the future. I’ll infuse stories of my experience as a teen and will share about the joy and heartbreak of raising teens. Spoiler alert: I have successfully launched two adults into the world. It can be done!


If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. If you or someone you love needs mental health or wellness support, please visit our Mentis Youth Resource Database. As the founder of Teens Connect and director of Mentis’ Prevention Division, Jeni Olsen manages youth wellness programs through a mental health lens together with local teenagers and her Prevention team. As a director, speaker and writer, Olsen is often sought out for her in-depth expertise around teens and her forward-thinking, collaborative approach to supporting youth and their complex needs.

people holding round yellow sign

People holding the round sign 2022-2023 Mentis Teen Council – Nyah McWilliams’ Photo


The Mental Health Crisis is HERE in Napa County
July 13, 2023

Napa Spotlight

June 2023

The Mental Health Crisis Is HERE In Napa County

by Gwen McGill

50% of Californians aged 18-24 feel anxious nearly every day.1 Fewer than half of Americans who have a mental health disorder get proper treatment.2 And, on average in the United States, one person dies every 11 minutes by suicide.

Chances are you, a family member, or a friend has been touched by this national mental health crisis. Over the last three years, the situation has worsened, and many are still reeling from the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s worse, our children are struggling, right here in our community: 19% of 11 graders in Napa seriously contemplated suicide, and 50% reported that they felt chronically sad or hopeless3, a 25% increase from pre-COVID.

Access to mental health treatment and prevention services – combined with persistent stigma, cultural and linguistic barriers, and lack of insurance4–is one of the most pressing issues in Napa County.

For 75 years Mentis Has Served Our Community

Today, Mentis continues to grow and adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of the Napa Valley community. From everyday well-being to disaster response, Mentis is here to make sure its diverse community has the mental health tools and resources they need to thrive. Mentis provides a full continuum of mental health and wellness services, from prevention programs to mental health treatment, for people of all ages in Napa County. Mentis spearheads collaboration with dozens of local agencies, school districts and state officials to ensure all Napa County residents can access quality mental healthcare.


Wellness programs educate and support the community on good mental health right from the start, helping people weather the inevitable challenges life can bring. Mentis Wellness Cafés™ and outreach events, Mentis’ youth-driven Teens Connect program and QPR Suicide Prevention Trainings, serve our community to offer coping tools, social connection, connection to resources and to intervene to prevent mental health crises.


Outpatient services including therapy and case management and provide access to mental health therapy to youth in our schools and adults throughout the community, regardless of one’s ability to pay. When people develop the skills to cope with difficult life events or issues, it makes life better for our community members and those around them.


Residential services allow adults with mental illness to be given the tools and encouragement they need to live independently so that their ability to reach their own desired goals increases.

Mentis envisions a future where EVERY member of our community has the tools and resources to live the life they want to live. Our community’s mental health cannot be ignored, and demand continues to exceed available services. Visit the Mentis Community Resource Database and learn more about how to give to Mentis at


1 Annie E Casey Foundation Data Center, December 2022

2 National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD).

3 California Healthy Kids Survey, 2020-21 School Year

4 California Health Care Foundation


Napa Valley Life Magazine, The Annual Philanthropy Issue
July 13, 2023

Napa Valley Life Magazine, The Annual Philanthropy Issue
Summer 2023

Jeni Olsen
Prevention Director, Mentis
Founder, Teens Connect

After two Napa teenagers died by suicide in 2016, Jeni Olsen closed her 20-year-old graphic design business and founded Teens Connect with a mission to equip teenagers with tools to manage their anxiety and depression, provide safe places and people with whom to connect, and give them a voice in their community. Shortly after founding Tens Connect, she partnered with Mentis, one of Napa’s oldest nonprofits, to design a full continuum of care for Napa’s youth, including prevention and wellness programs and mental health therapy with teen-centered clinicians. (In 2020, Teens Connect merged with Mentis, and Olsen started a new Prevention Division at the agency where she manages wellness programs.) “Our programs, including therapy, are free for students at Napa County middle and high schools,” said Olsen, a 27-year Napa resident, whose goal is ensuring that today’s youth are given opportunities she did not have as a teenager – adult mentorship, peer support, accessible mental health resources, and a sense of belonging. Her programs have served more than 12,000 youth; the collected data shows marked improvement in learned coping skills, willingness to ask for help, decreased isolation, depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. Olsen started volunteering at age 19 when the company she worked for adopted a family and helped paint their home. “I felt that I received more than I gave, and I was hooked on volunteering,” said Olsen, a new Board Trustee of Napa Valley College. “I continued to look for ways to give back, which was easy to do once I had kids and got involved in their schools. I feel that it’s not only important to give back, it’s our responsibility as community members. Volunteering with local organizations and like-minded people gives me an understanding of who lives in my community and what the most pressing needs are, which helps me in my work. Volunteering also gives me a sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging, something I’ve helped instill in the teens I work with.”


Photo by Nic Meerholz


Letter: Helping young people care for their mental health
May 25, 2023

Originally Published in the Napa Valley Register on 5/23/23

Napa Valley’s Teens Show Up for Mental Wellness

By Jeni Olsen, Mentis Prevention Director

An estimated 100 young people showed up for Mentis’ first annual Youth Mental Health Festival on Saturday afternoon, held at the Pelusi Building at Kennedy Park. The goal of the festival was to expose youth to a variety of self-care activities and wellness tools to equip them in caring for their mental health. A wide range of activities covered all the dimensions of wellness including body movement exercises like yoga, walking meditations, and silent disco; arts and crafts projects including guided painting, venting jars, and empowerment bracelets; sensory experiences with essential oils and therapy animals; budgeting and savings tips to promote financial wellness; and healthy snacking featuring a build-your-own trail mix station. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to self-care and there was something for everyone. Many community organizations joined Mentis and hosted activities, allowing partners to educate youth about their programs and share resources in a fun and supportive environment.

After the event, Kristin Anderson, Director of Programs for Napa Valley Education Foundation shared, “This was the most fun we’ve ever had at an outreach event. It was so interactive and well thought out.” Kristin and her team hosted an affirmations booth, complete with prompts, stickers, and markers. Teens had fun creating personal affirmations that they used to take photos in the Affirmations Photo Booth.

Exposing young people to the many ways they can care for their bodies, minds, and hearts helps with stigma reduction and self-regulation, builds awareness around identifying feelings, and empowers youth to manage their emotions. Providing these experiences in a healthy social environment promotes positive peer connection. One of the teens who attended shared, “This really is a safe and supportive environment for youth. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to be involved!”

The idea for a festival came when discussing marketing ideas for May, as it is Mental Health Awareness Month. Nyah McWilliams, Mentis Prevention Specialist, suggested that Mentis design a fun event specifically for the teen community. “We wanted to do something notable for the youth, and for whatever we came up with to be memorable, collaborative with the teens, and of quality, and I really think we delivered.”

Mentis is currently expanding their Teens Connect program and everyone is welcome. For more information, please visit @teensconnectnapa on Instagram or reach out to Nyah McWilliams at

Thank you to the following businesses and organizations for hosting activities at our festival:

Aldea, Be Kind, Career Point North Bay, Claro/a-Up Valley Family Center, Healing Bound, Jeannie Hutton-Integrative Wellness, Loving Animals Providing Smiles, Leslie Silver Acupuncture Services, Mentis, Napa County Library, Napa Nuts, Napa Valley Painting, Napa Valley Photobooth Rental, Napa Valley Education Foundation, Redwood Credit Union, Sexual Education Justice Project, Team Morales Events, Trader Joe’s, VOICES-On the Move, Yoga Therapy Napa Valley


Mentis Announces $4.75 Million Award from State of California for Youth Mental Health
December 13, 2022

Napa, California – Last week Governor Newsom announced an unprecedented $480.5 million in infrastructure grants to support Youth Mental Health initiatives across the state. Mentis, the Napa-based mental health services agency that serves residents of every age and income level, is honored to be among the 54 entities in California receiving such a grant. Of the 54 grantees, only 4 were Bay Area-based: County of Santa Clara, Mentis – Napa County, Safe Passages – Alameda County and the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“We are thrilled to have received this funding, which is a testament to the good work we’ve been doing at Mentis for over 75 years. We look forward to realizing our vision of how-to best support Napa County’s youth, which will strengthen our future workforce and immediately transform our community” said Rob Weiss, Executive Director, Mentis.

The awards are delivered through the Department of Health Care Services’ (DHCS) Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program (BHCIP) Round 4: Children and Youth grants and will increase care for Californians ages 25 and younger, especially in the least restrictive, community-based settings including community wellness/youth prevention centers and outpatient community mental health clinics1.

The State’s historic investment is the fourth of six rounds of the $2.2 billion BHCIP funding provided by the Legislature and the Governor, which was authorized in the fiscal year 2021-22 budget to construct, acquire, and expand behavioral health facilities and community-based care options as well as invest in mobile crisis infrastructure. Funds can only be used for facility capacity expansion. BHCIP is part of a broader commitment by the California Health & Human Services Agency (CalHHS) to improve the state’s behavioral health and long-term care continuum infrastructure.

Recipients of BHCIP Round 4: Children and Youth grants include cities, counties, Tribal entities, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations statewide that serve target populations. Additional information on BHCIP Round 4: Children and Youth awardees is available at

Mentis, one of Napa’s oldest nonprofits, believes that each of us has the capacity to improve our mental health, but not all of us have the tools to do so. The agency’s staff and clinicians educate, support and inspire people to take charge of their mental well-being. With programs ranging from prevention to treatment, their work ensures our community’s mental wellness flourishes.

Contact: Liz Marks, Development Director,, 707-255-0966 X 153



Mentis prepares for 75th anniversary in Napa Valley
October 18, 2022

by Napa Valley Register Staff and was published in the Napa Valley Register on October 17, 2022

Mentis is preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary of serving Napa Valley.

The nonprofit group provides bilingual mental health services. It was founded in 1948 to help families readjust to civilian life after World War II.

On Friday, Mentis held a donor appreciation breakfast at La Toque restaurant, at the Westin Verasa hotel in the city of Napa. Mentis staff members revealed goals they hope to work on during the group’s 75th year.

“They understand that to make the biggest impact in our community, they must pull people out of the river, but they must also go upstream to prevent folks from falling in,” the nonprofit said in a news release.

The group also celebrated being named state Sen. Bill Dodd’s Nonprofit of the Year and hosting a February gala that raised more than $350,000.

Mentis has more than doubled its size in the last seven years in response to growing mental health services demands. In 2020, it merged with Teens Connect, forming a prevention division to teach mental health skills to people before mental health challenges become insurmountable, the press release said.

Visit to find out more about Mentis.


Stepping Stones for Mental Health
June 29, 2022

by Ashley Awe and was published in the Napa Valley Marketplace in June 2022
Photos by Israel Valencia

It seems like everywhere we turn, we hear about the mental health crisis our teens are facing. It is no wonder that so many of us feel worried for the young people in our lives and powerless to help them. We cannot fix every dilemma our teens are facing or prepare them for every issue they’ll come across in the future. But we can give them the tools and empower them to take control of their mental health. As they learn to express themselves and understand that they are not alone, they inspire others to also take control of their wellness.

Throughout this past winter and spring, twenty teens from Mentis’ countywide Teen Council worked with local artist Kristina Young to create a series of mosaic tile stepping stones with mental health and wellness themes, sharing messages of hope and healing, acceptance and inclusiveness, and the importance of caring for self and others. Funded by a collaborative grant from This is My Brave and Arts Council Napa Valley, teens met with Kristina over the course of a few months to design their tiles and learn how to translate their designs into mosaic works of art. Late this spring, teens met for an afternoon production session with Kristina and her photographer husband Israel Valencia, who helped with production and documented the process throughout the months-long project. After a debut showcase at the Napa County Library on April 30th, the stones were planted at Napa County high schools from American Canyon to Calistoga, reminding teens of the breadth of the community of which they are a part. Stepping stones are literally grounding, and teens will be reminded of the importance of their own mental health when they view the inspiring messages on the stones.

group of people

“The impact of a project like this is immeasurable,” explains Mentis Prevention Director and Teens Connect founder Jeni Olsen. “It benefits not only the teens who designed and created the tiles, but also high school students and school staff from all over the county who will see these mosaic stepping stones and resonate with the messages.”

The stones share messages including, “You Are Not Alone,” “You Matter,” “Have Hope,” and, “After the storm, the flowers bloom.” Most of the stones contain messages in both English and Spanish, and the stone designed for American Canyon High School includes a message in Tagalog, because this is a primary language spoken in American Canyon. Stones can be found in school gardens at American Canyon High, Napa High, Vintage High, New Technology High, Justin Siena High, Valley Oak High, Camille Creek Community School, St Helena High, Calistoga High and Napa Valley College. While each stepping stone has a unique design and color scheme, they all share a border of yellow tiles, which is Mentis’ brand color and also symbolizes a yellow brick road connecting all Napa Valley teens and their journey to mental wellness. The Mentis prevention team chose mosaic art as the medium for this project because of its meditative and healing creative process. It is also easy to learn and precludes perfectionism, providing access to youth who may not have had prior art experience.

“Mentis teens really embraced the concept of this project and the message that they were sharing with future teens. The final stones are colorful with strong designs and positive messages, and seeing the teens take pride in the work they did makes me so happy.” says Kristina Young.

The mental health crisis among teens is likely unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes. Having never lived through a global pandemic, it’s impossible to predict its lasting effects on psychosocial health. It is vital that we provide opportunities for youth to connect with each other and learn tools for wellness, including art and self-expression.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we at Mentis can think of no better way to celebrate it than to listen to the young people in our community who are passionate mental health advocates. To view all the stepping stones created by our talented teens, please visit the Teens Connect Instagram page @teensconnectnapa. To learn more about the work Mentis is doing in the community, please visit


Napa Valley teens develop programs that boost mental health
May 20, 2022

by Jessica Zimmer and was published in the Napa Valley Register on May 9, 2022

The Teen Council, which serves as mental health advocates in their schools and communities, is accepting applications for new members until May 15, with interviews set for June and acceptances for July. 

Members hold discussions about mental health issues and organize wellness events for Teens Connect, a program of Mentis for youth ages 12 through 20. Both groups are organized under the umbrella of Mentis, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mental health that serves Napa Valley residents.

“Mentis’ Teen Council members run empowerment clubs on their school campuses, provide peer counseling and referral to mental health resources, and promote volunteerism and civic engagement. Most importantly, they offer their insights, observations and unique perspectives to Mentis’ ongoing program development with a focus on caring for self, others, and the community,” said Jeni Olsen, founder of Teens Connect and prevention director at Mentis.

Kate Zarate, 18 and a senior at Napa High School, said being a member of the Teen Council taught her to understand others and not expect too much.

“Everyone is different. We should give people their own boundaries and spaces,” Zarate said.

Zarate, who wants to become a social worker, said she values Teen Council’s emphasis on diversity in all aspects: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s great that the Teen Council is made up of people of different ages and from a variety of backgrounds. We have meetings on the first Tuesday of every month. This helps us check in with one another. We also talk about how to reach out to teens throughout Napa Valley,” said Zarate. 

Sophia Stanfield, 17 and a senior at St. Helena High School, said joining the Teen Council inspired her to start St. Helena High School’s Mental Health and Wellness Club.

“This spring, the club held a suicide prevention training for members. We hope to save lives and influence the next generation of mental health professionals,” said Stanfield.

Stanfield added being in the Teen Council taught her how to keep an open mind.

“Before, I found it really hard to ask for help. Now, I helped create a place where love and trust are valued. I and others have an immediate safe haven,” said Stanfield.

Valuing technology, culture, and togetherness

Social media helps Teens Connect reach out to the greater teen community in Napa Valley. In 2020 and 2021, Teen Council members held weekly wellness workshops on Zoom to create space for social connection. They also posted positive material on Instagram and other outlets.

“Since we’re coming back to in-person events, we can have gatherings again. Doing so much online taught us a lot. The Teen Council is better equipped with different ways to start conversations about mental health,” said Zarate.

Zarate said a common topic in conversations is culture. Teens Connect represents teens of many different backgrounds, including youth of color and LGBTQ youth.

“The Teen Council addresses how to discuss the issues facing the Latinx community of Napa County. We explore ways for us to contribute to solutions. Listening to one another teaches us how to share our voices,” said Zarate.

Stanfield said a benefit of the Teen Council is that it has helped students from the northern and southern parts of the Valley connect.

“We have members all the way up at Calistoga High School to all the way down at American Canyon High School. The meetings get teens out of their comfort zone. We hold picnics, do volunteer work, or even do things as simple as play trivia games. After these two hard years, it’s such a relief to be social again,” said Stanfield.

The history behind Teen Council

Teens Connect was founded in 2017, after Napa lost two young teens to suicide the year before. The organization had a goal of creating safe spaces to amplify youth voices. The group then decided to also promote the mental health and wellness of teens throughout Napa Valley.

“Our focus was on teaching youth how to care for themselves and others,” said Olsen.

In 2017, Olsen founded Teens Connect as a nonprofit organization, with youth representation from Napa County high schools. The first Teen Council was composed of 12 members from different high schools. They wrote the group’s bylaws and established many of its activities focused on mental health and wellness.

Also, in 2017, Teens Connect established a partnership with Mentis. Together, the organizations began to provide a continuum of support for youth in Napa Valley. The programs ranged from wellness activities and suicide prevention to free therapy for middle school and high school students in Napa Valley Unified School District.

By 2020, the Teen Council had expanded to include members from eight high schools in Napa County, as well as Napa Valley College. In July of 2020, Mentis officially welcomed Teens Connect and the Teen Council onto its roster of programs. The groups are now run within the prevention division at Mentis.

Nyah McWilliams, prevention specialist with Mentis, joined the nonprofit at age 20 to work with Teens Connect.

Before coming to Mentis, McWilliams served as a campus supervisor for Napa Valley Unified School District for close to four years. McWilliams said the Teen Council amplifies youth voices so that adults in the community can better understand their needs and perspectives.

“There can be judgment, especially in the teen years. Teens Connect creates space for community. You get to make friends from different schools and explore your identity,” said McWilliams.

McWilliams said that Teen Council prides itself on diversity and inclusion. The group invites applications from candidates involved in a variety of clubs and hobbies.

“It’s great to have Teen Council members who can share what they learn about mental health with peers. That helps break the stigma. Many people experience stress, depression, and anxiety at different points in their life,” said McWilliams.

Mariana Diaz, 20 and a sophomore at Napa Valley College, said two of the most important things being a Teen Council member taught her were how to be a part of a team and create connections within the community.

Diaz valued achieving goals like developing Bridging the Years, a Teens Connect program to partner teens with older adults for social connection.

Diaz said being a part of Teens Connect helped her succeed in two subsequent positions. These were project assistant at Rainbow Action Network, a group of LGBTQIA+ people and allies that creates programs for families under First 5 Napa Network, and art assistant with the Napa Rail Arts District (RAD).

One of Diaz’s duties as an art assistant for RAD was to orient members of the Teen Council who volunteered to paint “Our RAD Wall.” This is a space in downtown Napa where young people between 12 and 21 can create murals to express themselves and bring positive messages to the community.

“Being a member of the Teen Council showed me that with time and dedication, teens can work cooperatively to achieve goals that touch on and go beyond raising awareness about mental health. I want to become a K-12 teacher. I look forward to developing activities to support the mental health of myself, my colleagues, my students, their parents, and the community,” said Diaz.

To learn more about the Teen Council and apply to join, email McWilliams at


Sen. Dodd: Napa County’s Mentis is Nonprofit of the Year
May 20, 2022

press release from Sen. Bill Dodd originally published May 6, 2022

NAPA – Napa County’s Mentis has been serving the mental health needs of young people, adults and seniors for decades, providing life-saving treatment including suicide prevention and mental health therapy in Spanish and English, in times of crisis including earthquakes, wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. For Mentis’ significant contribution to the community’s mental well-being, it has been named Nonprofit of the Year for Senate District 3 by Sen. Bill Dodd.

“We have endured significant mental health challenges over the years and through them all, Mentis has been there,” Sen. Dodd said. “The assistance they provide to our underserved and vulnerable populations is invaluable. They offer the support, education and inspiration people need to take charge of their lives. At the same time, they are growing to meet increasing demand. I’m honored to recognize Mentis for its achievement.”

“I find myself so proud of all that we have accomplished together,” said Rob Weiss, Mentis executive director. “Though the events of the past few years were truly unprecedented, we found ourselves more flexible than we thought possible and more dedicated than ever to serving our community whenever and however it was needed. By adding a prevention division, Mentis has truly expanded its reach to become the safety net for people of every age needing mental health and wellness support.”

Mentis was founded in 1948 to help families readjust to civilian life following World War II. As Napa County’s mental health needs grew, Mentis responded, expanding its services to treat people of all ages and expanding bilingual clinical staff. It has been instrumental in addressing teen suicide through partnerships with schools and its recent merger with Teens Connect. It also provides low-cost treatment and counseling to help adults and seniors lead emotionally healthy, stable lives. With added stress from recent wildfires and the pandemic, Mentis responded to increased demand, serving more than 4,500 community members in 2021.

Mentis will be formally recognized June 8 on the Capitol lawn in Sacramento during a ceremony coordinated by the California Association of Nonprofits.


Meet Obi, Napa’s therapy pig
March 17, 2022

See original article on Napa Valley Register’s Website Here.

Mentis Napa’s newest “staff member” has a freckled snout, loves Cheerios and can twirl on demand.

“He has the sweetest little face, and he’s very friendly,” said Mentis employee Mackenzie Lovie, about her new colleague.

“He” is Obi — a 1-year old therapy pig that recently joined the animal-assisted therapy program at the Napa nonprofit.

Animal-assisted psychotherapy utilizes a trained animal to help a client work toward their goals in therapy, Lovie explained.

Mentis has offered types of animal-assisted therapy in the past, but this is the first time a pig has joined the team. 

Lovie said that the first time she saw Obi, a miniature pig, she knew he was “something special.”

“We met him, and we fell in love with him.”

Obi — a metaphor in Nigeria for “heart” — connected with Lovie thanks to Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch in the Carneros region.

In that first encounter, “I looked into his eyes,” and thought “you have that thing that makes people happy,” Lovie recalled.

The timing was perfect. Lovie, who is a licensed clinical social worker and a housing manager at Mentis, is currently studying to become a certified animal-assisted psychotherapist.

She’s also no stranger to animals. Lovie spent years in 4-H, raising everything from pygmy goats to rabbits. She later adopted Pandora, her yellow lab guide dog, who is now 16.

“My clients have loved my therapy dog Pandora,” said Lovie. “She’s brought a lot of value to everything.”

Mentis Executive Director Rob Weiss embraced the Obi-idea.

“Animal-assisted therapy has been proven to be an effective way to engage our clients in mental health treatment while building trust in a fun and supportive way,” said Weiss.

Of course, there are limitations sometimes to what can be accomplished through traditional talk therapy, and animal-assisted therapy “is a way of helping people of all ages address issues that can be hard to talk about,” he said. “Additionally, animals reach us in ways that people can’t.”

Monica Stevens from Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch said she’s quite proud that Obi is helping others.

“The power of healing that an animal can bring to a human — it’s magical,” said Stevens.

This is also a good example that shows that pigs can be more than food, she pointed out. “It’s the power of a pig.”

Obi recently started making public appearances around Napa Valley. For one of his first outings, he and Lovie, along with representatives from Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch, visited a third-grade class at Napa’s Bel Aire school.

“It was a huge success,” said Lovie. “He loved them, they loved him.” Wearing his harness and leash, Obi “walked right into the classroom,” like he was in hog heaven.

“I know he made a lot of third-graders really happy and had a day they will not forget,” said Lovie.

She plans to introduce Obi at other schools and gatherings, as well as taking him to meet her clients at their homes.

It’s important to be creative about what it means to “do therapy,” she said. “It’s not just sitting in an office lying on the couch.” Obi can become a part of role-playing interactions, act as a buffer during therapy, encourage outdoor time, or help to reduce stress by being touched, or even watched.

“One thing that I hope people get is how emotional and smart he is,” she said.

Lovie officially adopted Obi, but because she lives in downtown Napa, Obi doesn’t stay with her. Two other experienced guardians care for Obi. His accommodations include a well-appointed pen and yard, including personal wading pool. Lovie and Obi see each other quite regularly.

Obi, who weighs about 80 pounds, eats a balanced diet of pig pellets and fruits and vegetables. Another favorite?

Cheerios, said Lovie. “It’s a special treat.”


Supporting Older Adults – Experts offer advice for helping seniors get past the pandemic
June 17, 2021

Jessica Zimmer


Being present for older adults in 2021 requires forethought and an understanding of how the pandemic has changed many aspects of daily life. Many older adults are emerging from a long period of isolation. Yet they remain concerned about their safety, as well as the safety of loved ones. When all parties are vaccinated, a hug goes a long way.

“When possible, physical touch is very much appreciated. Messages of love, that you, a family member, or grandchildren are all right, especially because of the way you were raised, are helpful,” Dr. Doug Wilson, medical director for the palliative care service at Queen of the Valley Medical Center and a family physician at OLE Health.

Wilson suggested limiting the amount of time spent on “COVID talk.”

“Older adults especially may have lost friends and family members to the illness. Talking about the pandemic may cause them anxiety. It could also bring up other stressful topics, like politics. If older adults bring up COVID or another topic that you find difficult, it’s OK to distract and move the conversation to another topic,” said Wilson.

Wilson said many people have loved ones who express ideas their children and grandchildren may find challenging.

“Just like some of our elders had to deal with ancestors who would express support for slavery or other violence, we have an opportunity to fund ways to express love and affection for elders who may share perspectives we find problematic,” said Wilson.

Wilson said visitors to an older adult’s home or care facility should focus on positive things that “touch their emotions or souls.”

“Talking about the arts or anything they did in their lives that will live on as a legacy is great. These things are reassuring. Remember that as the body ages, people are no longer able to do the things they once did. They want to connect to the part of themselves that is youthful,” said Wilson.

Naomi Dreskin-Anderson, a Napa-based attorney who focuses on elder law issues, said it is a good time to try and minimize family disputes, like arguments over inheritance.

“Older adults have been more isolated during the pandemic. Adult children haven’t been as able to visit. I am seeing adult children expressing more anxiety about people taking advantage of their parents. They’re looking for ways to take more control over their parents’ lives. This results in stress for everyone,” said Dreskin-Anderson.

Dreskin-Anderson advises gradually lengthening visits after all parties have been vaccinated.

“Family counseling and meditation can be helpful too,” said Dreskin-Anderson.

Dreskin-Anderson is a Napa Board of Supervisors’ appointee to the Napa County Commission on Aging and co-chair of the Healthy Aging Population Initiative (HAPI). HAPI represents the concerns of elder with Live Healthy Napa County, a public-private partnership to improve the health of all Napa County residents.

Dreskin-Anderson said the Napa County Commission on Aging has advocated for funding activities for older adults through the pandemic. The Commission has focused on meeting needs regarding meal programs, community outreach programs, virtual events, and “telephone reassurance,” calls to increase interaction and fight isolation.

“One of the issues we’re still addressing is the digital divide, the concerns the older population has with accessing technology. We’re also working to increase the amount of supportive housing in Napa County. Our goal is to help people remain where they live. This allows them to age comfortably in place,” said Dreskin-Anderson.

Megan Dozler, a Napa-based music therapist and founder of Core3Harmony & Wellness Services, LLC, advocated encouraging older adults to engage in communal interactions like tai chi, exercise, and live drumming. She said these activities relieve stress related to the pandemic. 

Dozler acknowledged adults in their 70s and beyond come from a generation in which events and socialization were held in groups.

“Think about how dances were organized, often around live music. People also enjoyed listening to music together around a record player or through a radio program. Establishing a sense of connection helps older people thrive,” said Dozler.

Dozler said she is easing concern about group activities by offering short classes with fewer people.

“this helps everyone feel safe and get ack into normal routines and activities. Having a real person there is important, as many older adults dislike watching videos. I ask for sign-ups to see who’s interested,” said Dozler.

Dozler said it takes an effort even for professionals to draw older adults out of their rooms.

“Before vaccines were available, staff required residents of assisted living facilities to stay in their own rooms or within a limited area. Even if teachers were allowed to come, residents lacked motivation to engage. Residents are hesitant to go back to what they were doing before the pandemic. During this slow transition back to group interaction, many facilities require self-screening healthcare checks prior to conducting groups. We’re looking at new activities to re-energize them,” said Dozler.

Rob Weiss, Executive Director of Mentis, Napa’s oldest non-profit and a provider of mental health services throughout Napa Valley, is drawing on the lessons learned through Healthy Minds, Healthy Aging. This comprehensive program, which has been inexistence for over 10 years, supports adults over 60.

“Our approach is to intervene early. That reduces the need for more intensive intervention later on. Right now we’re providing short-term therapy and mental health case management over Zoom and by telephone,” said Weiss.

Weiss said Healthy Minds, Healthy Aging, like all of Mentis Napa’s programs, offers bilingual services in English and Spanish. Weiss said the pandemic posed significant challenges for outreach.

“When lockdown happened last spring, a lot of people backed off from phone appointments. More have comeback, gradually. Another thing that’s helped is offering services to caregivers of older adults. They can get burned out. We offer programs to support them too,” said Weiss.

Young adults can be part of a larger solution. In April 2021, Mentis Napa launched a new pilot program called Bridging the Years.

The program connects older adults at Rohlff’s Manor in Napa with teens from Napa Valley College and five Napa County high schools, American Canyon High, Napa High, Vintage High, New Tech High, and Justin Siena High. 

The teens, who are between the ages of 15 and 19, call their older adult conversational partner once a week for six weeks. Both the teens and older adults have relationship coaches supporting their interactions.

“Our program invigorates and energizes older adults while grounding and centering teenagers. Long-term plans include county-wide expansion and in-person multigenerational activities, when it’s safe again to do so,” said Jeni Olsen, Prevention Director of Mentis Napa.

The teens participating in Bridging the Years are all members of the Mentis Teen Council, a diverse youth leadership group that empowers teens to care for themselves, others, and the community.

Samira Flores, 18 a senior at Vintage High School, said her advice for interacting with older adults is being patient and having a positive attitude.

“They can sense if you don’t give a conversation your full energy. I recommend communicating through music, smiles, and body language,” said Flores.

Flores said the pandemic has made everyone extremely lonely.

“In my first call, both me and the older adult I called started rambling. We were so excited. One thing I learned is the pandemic has helped us understand each other. My conversation partner talked to me about school and staying home, what I was going through. They had empathy for me,” said Flores.

Kalaya Jones, 18 and a senior at Napa High School, is also the vice president of Teens Connect, a Mentis youth wellness and prevention program. Tees Connect supports mental health and wellness among teens in Napa County. Jones said she suggest accepting each individual as their own person.

“you want to go at a pace that is comfortable for them. My thought is to approach this in a gentle and kind manner. I will reassure them that I’m there for them. I’ll explain that I might fully understand what they’re going through but I’m willing to listen,” said Jones.

Jones added she has learned more about encouraging self-expression by working with Teens Connect to hold “virtual wellness cafes” for local middle school and high school students during school hours.

“Doing a little bit for mental wellness everyday ends up benefiting everyone so much. I look forward to having conversations where we both say, “OK. We will get through this,” said Jones.


Brain Waves: Boosting Children’s Resilience with Dr. Steven Adelsheim and Jeni Olsen
May 13, 2021

How can we boost the resilience of children and teens after they experience trauma? Dr. Steven Adelsheim, Director, Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing at Stanford University School of Medicine and Jeni Olsen, Prevention Director at Mentis: Napa’s Center for Mental Health Services discuss this and more on this episode of Brain Waves.


Parent Footprint Podcast with Dr. Dan: Helping Teens Connect with Jeni Olsen
April 26, 2021

Have a listen to Dr. Dan Peters’ interview with Jeni Olsen, our Prevention Director, about how youth prevention programs fit in to our continuum of care and overall community wellness.


Dr. Dan Peters presents Parenting & Teaching During a Pandemic
February 2, 2021

Mentis, in partnership with Napa County SELPA were proud to host 2 webinars with Dr. Dan Peters, for Parents and Educators working with youth during this pandemic year:

Parenting During a Pandemic

Building Resilience in Uncertain Times: Building Coping Skills and Promoting Health and Wellness in our Youth

Teaching During a Pandemic

Building Resilience in Uncertain Times: Building Coping Skills and Promoting Health and Wellness in our Youth


Dr. Dan ​is a licensed psychologist who has devoted his career to the assessment, consultation and treatment of children, adolescents, and families, specializing in learning differences, anxiety, and issues related to giftedness and twice-exceptionality. He is passionate about helping parents and teachers engage children in the classroom, at home, and in life so that they can realize their full potential. Dr. Dan is co-founder and Executive Director of​ ​Summit Center​, author of several books about anxiety in children, and co-founder of​ ​Parent Footprint​, an online interactive parent training program.


Rob Weiss Talks on KQED about Stress & Anxiety during COVID-19 + Wildfires
August 27, 2020


2019 Impact Report
May 27, 2020

We are very excited to share our Mentis 2019 Impact Report.



Napa Broadcasting: Rob Weiss talks about Mentis and Mental Health Services in Napa County
January 2, 2018


Thanks for support of Mentis
January 2, 2018

I’m writing today to thank our next-door neighbor, Community Projects, for investing in mental health for older adults in our community. Community Projects recognizes the vulnerable of this growing population.


Creating Community: Napa County Nonprofits at Work
January 2, 2018

Napa County is a diverse, growing county with a rich history and culture. Its nonprofit organizations are woven into the fabric of the community and enhance the quality of life, maximize civic engagement, and provide a lens through which to view the past and plan for the future…


Making a Difference in Mental Health Services
January 2, 2018

Rob Weiss has been the executive director of Mentis (formerly Family Service of Napa Valley) for more than five years, but he’s worked at the nonprofit for a total of two decades.

“We make a big difference in the lives of people we serve,” Weiss said. “We’re making Napa County a better place to live. It makes me want to get up and come to work every day.”


Marks joins Mentis as development director
January 2, 2018

Mentis, formerly Family Service of Napa Valley, has named Liz Marks as development director.


Fundraiser supporting mental health raises $100,000 at Opus One Winery
January 2, 2018

Mentis: Napa’s Center for Mental Health Services announced that the nonprofit raised $100,000 at its fifth annual World of Wine fundraiser at Opus One Winery on March 12.


Community health nonprofits receive almost $6 million in grants
January 2, 2018

Napa Valley Vintners announced the award of nearly $6 million in grants to local nonprofits that deliver a spectrum of health care services.


Growing Support for Mental Health in Napa County
January 2, 2018

I have been a board member for Mentis (formerly known as Family Service Napa Valley) for almost eight years. Over these years,


World of Wine 2016
January 2, 2018

Mentis: Napa’s Center for Mental Health Services, in partnership with Opus One Winery, will hold its 5th Annual World of Wine Fundraising Event.


October 10 is World Mental Health Day!
January 2, 2018

World Mental Health Day, which is supported by the United Nations (UN), is annually held on October 10 to raise public awareness about mental health issues worldwide…


Family Service of Napa Valley is renamed Mentis
January 2, 2018

Family Service of Napa Valley, a provider of mental health services, has rebranded itself, becoming Mentis, Napa’s Center for Mental Health Services…


Family Service of Napa Valley reinvents itself
January 2, 2018

Family Service of Napa Valley is the oldest nonprofit in Napa County, and after 65 years of providing mental health services to people of every age, stage and income level, they are reinventing themselves…


Family Service of Napa Valley hosts ribbon-cutting, reveals new name
January 2, 2018

Family Service will announce a new name and host a ribbon-cutting and tours of new clinical offices Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Those offices are located at 1700 Second St. in the Robert Louis Stevenson Plaza.


Family Service of Napa Valley to open new clinical offices
November 13, 2017

Family Service of Napa Valley will offer the public tours of its new clinical offices at 1700 2nd St. at a ribbon-cutting event on Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. until noon.