During a school year unlike any other, when “IRL” (in real life) human interactions were replaced by “URL” (online) interactions, Blue Shield of California’s signature youth mental health initiative, BlueSky, continued to deliver on its promise to provide access, awareness, and advocacy for youth mental health supports to California middle and high school students.
BlueSky is a multi-year effort to support youth mental health, including online and on-campus mental health services and supporting educator training on student mental health.
BlueSky’s virtual programming is achieving real-world impact, as shared by an educator who participated in a BlueSky training this past year: “Twice this year I have had students open up to me. And because I attended the training, I was able to recognize the key phrases which triggered me to think those students were in danger of harming themselves. I was able to mediate help for them and they got the help they needed immediately.”
There are numerous achievements to celebrate from BlueSky’s second year:
Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training doubles reach
The California Department of Education’s Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training – which helps educators and other caring adults identify risk factors and warning signs of mental health concerns in youth — not only adapted to the challenges of distance learning last year but thrived. A critical component of BlueSky’s entrée of services, YMHFA saw a nearly two-fold increase in the number of people trained last school year (1,701 educators and caring adults compared to 867 trained in the 2019-2020 school year). What’s more, nearly all (97%) participants say the training helped them support youth during the pandemic.
One-on-one counseling helps 500 youth
In collaboration with the nonprofit Wellness Together, BlueSky achieved a steady increase in crisis and family counseling sessions – serving nearly 500 youth through more than 4,000 counseling sessions in 20 middle and high schools in Alameda and San Diego Counties.
Student-led peer clubs expand
Working with NAMI California (National Alliance on Mental Illness), BlueSky continued to support the expansion of student-led clubs in high schools throughout the state with the goal of reducing mental health stigma. In fact, 89% of club advisors felt the club had a positive impact on reducing stigma and raising awareness in the school community.
“Amid the constant uncertainty and intangible impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to support our youth is more critical than ever,” said David Bond LCSW, director of Behavioral Health for Blue Shield of California. “We are grateful to all of our partners, including the California Department of Education, Wellness Together and NAMI California who helped us adapt BlueSky to virtual and hybrid environments without missing a beat.”
Hope for the future – looking ahead
Prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year, BlueSky conducted a survey of 500 California middle and high school students. One of the key findings is youth are talking about their mental health with someone – a friend (54%), parent/guardian (46%), teacher (20%) or professional counselor (18%).
“We were pleased to see that young people are connecting with others about how they are feeling, and also realized we have an opportunity to do more,” Bond said. “This pandemic has made us all realize the importance of self-assessment, self-care, and helping our youth learn how to do that with support from a parent or teacher.”
“It is imperative that we continue building upon the data that we have gathered over the past two years,” he continued. “The more adults we can train in the classroom, the better we will be able to increase help-seeking behaviors, reduce anxiety and hopelessness, and reduce equity gaps all while helping youth continue to be successful students.”
To that end, Blue Shield of California recently announced a $1 million contribution to the California Department of Education’s (CDE) philanthropic foundation. CDE serves 6 million students throughout the state. These funds will help pay for the expansion of youth mental health training while continuing to address equity gaps in mental and behavioral health services.
Visit the BlueSky website to access resources for youth, parents/guardians, and educators at BlueShieldCa.com/BlueSky.