Students from CAPA, Upper St. Clair and Allderdice took part in the groundbreaking festivities at UpStreet. Photo by Erica Dietz.

There are 44,000 young adults in the City of Pittsburgh, and according to a nationwide study by the University of California San Francisco, it’s likely that nearly half had mental health issues in mid-2021. More than a third could not access therapy. 

Help is on the way.

After piloting a successful online mental health services platform, a local organization will soon open a space for young people to access free mental health services in Squirrel Hill. 

In October 2020, Jewish Family and Community Services Pittsburgh (JFCS) launched UpStreet, an online platform for anyone ages 12-22 to access free and quick mental health services. 

“It came about as an idea six years ago, focused on the inability of youth as well as their parents to get immediate guidance, insight and understanding of what the mental health system is and then how to get help,” says Dana Gold, chief operating officer with JFCS.

“The choices for youth who were having a challenge were almost pathologizing by either sending them to (UPMC) Western Psych or to the emergency department … There was nothing in between for kids to get help in the moment, to de-escalate what was going on.”

Dana Gold, chief operating officer at JFCS, discusses the future of UpStreet at the groundbreaking event. Photo by Erica Dietz.

While it is geared toward students in the Pittsburgh area, UpStreet has served young people across the region and even out of state through its drop-in consultations with therapists, scheduled therapy appointments, text-based peer support, and support groups for teens. 

Parents can also use the services to address their concerns and challenges with parenting. 

UpStreet’s text-based peer mentoring program pairs youth who have experienced challenges with younger kids to talk about their struggles.

“We’ve served close to 10,000 kids on the chat, brief support conversations, as well as therapy, group work and going into the schools. This was all done without a space,” Gold says.

“Our therapists can help kids trying to make a decision, or if they’ve had a heartbreak. It can be academic or emotional, a fight with a parent. We’re there to help them talk that through and help them recognize that whatever moment there is, there is hope.”

On Dec. 6, UpStreet broke ground on its future location at the former Forward Lanes building at 5844 Forward Ave. in Squirrel Hill. UpStreet hopes to open its doors in the summer of 2023. The organization believes in-person encounters are vital to supporting youth and limiting the escalation of mental health challenges into crises. 

UpStreet will open in Squirrel Hill in the summer of 2023. Photo by Erica Dietz.

The new location is strategically placed near many students. 

“The old Forward Lanes bowling alley is literally less than a block away from Taylor Allderdice High School — a place you need to walk by to get to the bus,” Gold says.

JFCS is renovating the space to allow for walk-in mental health services including counseling, group services and career services. JFCS currently works with youth, and refugee and immigrant youth to help them discover what skills and talents may align with a career path. Gold emphasizes that JFCS’s online programs will not be eliminated, but rather both virtual and in-person services will offer the same support. 

“We really see this as something replicable that any community can do, so that this is a model that can look like whatever community it is planted within,“ Gold says.

If you or someone you know needs confidential mental health services, go online to chat or make an appointment. 

Ethan Woodfill

A Pittsburgh native, Ethan is a freelance journalist interested in telling the stories of people doing great things to build community and sustainability. Ethan served as Editor-in-Chief of Allegheny College's...