A few weeks ago, none of us predicted we would be spending the spring “sheltering in place” away from our coworkers, family and friends. Social isolation is of course critical to containing the spread of COVID-19, and this new reality has touched every corner of our lives.
Particularly vulnerable and often left out of the COVID-19 discussion are our youth. Many were blindsided by the abrupt halt of their school year. Eighth graders were looking forward to advancing to high school. Seniors were preparing for graduation and the many events leading up to it. Student athletes had seasons cut short; performing artists’ stage dreams were disrupted. Sadly, the most vulnerable youth are the most affected by a crisis like this – especially those who depend upon the support systems in schools including food, counseling and social support.
Two of my own children - one 18 and one 22 - are now sheltering in place at home. While we’re fortunate enough to have everything we need, it’s still such a disruptive and unsettling change for them. It reminds me that even as we work to address the COVID-19 crisis from an infectious disease perspective, children and young people need support and resources to maintain their emotional well-being.
Youth mental health was already a dire problem, with 1 in 5 students having a mental health need and only a fraction of them receiving the necessary support. Now, those concerns are even more pressing.
Last fall, Blue Shield of California launched BlueSky, a multi-year effort to enhance awareness, advocacy, and access to mental health support for middle and high school students in California. A major part of the BlueSky initiative was bringing therapists into 19 schools to provide direct mental health support to students in need. I’m so proud that our school mental health provider Wellness Together is now delivering mental health care to these students remotely through video therapy sessions.
Now, we are enhancing the BlueSky program to include an innovative, three-month digital campaign in collaboration with DoSomething.org entitled “New State of Mind.” The campaign is a crowd-sourced resource, where youth from across California and around the world can share their tips to help combat anxiety, reduce stigma, raise awareness and encourage help-seeking. As part of the campaign, youth also have access to mental health and COVID-19 resources which provide tips for supporting a friend or not feeling alone will physically distancing. DoSomething.org is the largest organization for young people and social change, with young people in every U.S. area code engaging with their campaigns.
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused considerable stress to youth and their families. It is our hope that the New State of Mind Campaign can provide additional reassurance during this unprecedented time and offer a chance for young people to connect with their peers on how this crisis has affected their mental and emotional well-being. Please visit the Blue Shield of California BlueSky website for more information and resources for youth mental health.