By Antoinette Mayer, Blue Shield of California vice president of Corporate Citizenship and co-founder of BlueSky
In 2019, the state of California received a D grade for youth mental health from Children Now, a nonprofit dedicated to children’s public policy issues. At Blue Shield of California, we knew we needed to do more to address the youth mental health crisis, and BlueSky was born.
BlueSky is Blue Shield of California’s signature youth mental health initiative dedicated to improving access, awareness and advocacy, particularly for youth in marginalized communities. Now in its fifth year, our initiative has supported thousands of young people, funded the growth of innovative programs and gained national recognition.
When we set out to build BlueSky, we recognized that a young person’s mental health impacted their long-term well-being. By catching and addressing mental health challenges early, we’re helping youth have a better shot at success in school and life.
Helping best-in-class programs grow
From BlueSky’s inception, Blue Shield sought out knowledgeable partners rooted in community, focused on equity and committed to reaching youth of color, who face greater barriers to accessing care. We invested in programs and organizations to provide multi-year support. This enabled our partners to build their capacity, innovate and reach more young people.
The first four years of BlueSky have been a learning journey, and we’ve developed strong partnerships. We’ve learned from experts in the field, clinicians, and most importantly, youth themselves. And through those collaborations, BlueSky has been incredibly successful in touching the lives of thousands of young people. Here are some highlights:
- Since 2019, BlueSky has supported more than 2,000 youth with individual, group and family counseling sessions through our collaboration with Wellness Together. For many young people, getting therapy is out of reach either due to lack of access to health care, or because it’s difficult finding a provider who shares their language or lived experienced. Providing this access to youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth is one of the primary goals of BlueSky.
- By collaborating with the California Department of Education, we’ve trained more than 5,500 educators and caring adults in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). This empowers adults to better identify youth who are struggling and provides protocols to support them. In the 2022-23 school year, 75% of YMHFA participants reported they were “very confident” they could provide reassurance and help to a young person experiencing emotional distress.
- BlueSky partner National Alliance on Mental Illness California (NAMI) had nearly 3,000 active youth participants in their NAMI On-Campus clubs in the 2022-23 school year. NAMI participants engage in youth mental health advocacy, provide peer-to-peer support, and educate their school bodies. In the 2022-23 school year, 77% of youth participants reported that they could advocate for changes to school policies to positively impact youth mental health.
Three reasons for BlueSky’s success
BlueSky has gained national recognition, and I am so proud Blue Shield was asked to lead a panel at the annual meeting of the National Governors’ Association. I attribute our success to the three reasons:
- The first is knowing we don’t have all the answers, so we can focus on being good listeners. We seek input directly from youth, in their own voices, and from clinicians who practice culturally responsive care in communities of color.
- The second is understanding individualized care and how circumstances can impact a young person’s mental health. Racism, economic hardship, sexuality, and gender identity are all factors in mental health. Entire communities need to be engaged, because it takes a village of parents, caregivers and educators to develop a thoughtful approach that’s informed by social justice.
- The third is being adaptable to emerging needs while maintaining a focus on long-term goals. When we started BlueSky, we certainly weren’t expecting a pandemic. In early 2020, just a few months after the launch of our program, we and our partners had to quickly adapt to address the additional pressures on youth, while always keeping our focus on access, awareness, and advocacy.
We have big goals for BlueSky as it moves forward into its next chapter. By 2028, we want to train 10,000 participants through social justice-informed mental health literacy programs. We want to engage 20,000 youth in mental health advocacy and provide culturally responsive competent care to thousands more underrepresented youth.
As we look to the future, we encourage the private sector and public leaders to continue working together to bolster investments in youth mental health and to champion exemplary programs like the ones BlueSky supports. Let’s collectively pave the way for a future where mental well-being for youth is prioritized and the potential of every young person is nurtured. We invite you to join us in this important endeavor.
Learn more about BlueSky at bluesky.blueshieldca.com.