Collaborative Effort Will Support Mental Health for California Students

December 8, 2019

Blue Shield of California's BlueSky initiative brings together community organizations to develop resilience in students.

There is a mental health crisis among California's youth. Studies show up to one in five students in the U.S. has a serious mental health need, yet in California too few of those affected receive the help they need, according to Blue Shield of California, based in Oakland, California.

To address this issue, the payer is launching BlueSky, a multi-year effort in collaboration with the California Department of Education and nonprofit organizations such as Wellness Together, National Alliance on Mental Illness California, and DoSomething.org. The goal of the initiative is to enhance awareness, advocacy, and access to mental health resources for California's middle- and high school students.

The BlueSky initiative will provide additional mental health clinicians in schools, train teachers on the signs of mental health issues, and empower students with in-person and online mental health support resources.

"Mental and emotional health play an essential role in a person's overall well-being, starting in childhood," says Paul Markovich, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California. "We all face adversity, yet each person's future depends on his or her ability to cope with life's challenges. Our goal through Blue Shield of California BlueSky is to help students develop the resilience and emotional well-being today that will give them a lifetime of good health."

Related: Study Reframes The History Of LGBT Mental Healthcare

The BlueSky initiative uses a combination of school-level services and statewide initiatives, including:

• One-on-one therapy for students most in need 
Through the work of nonprofit Wellness Together, BlueSky will bring additional mental health clinicians into schools to enhance access to care. This service is launching initially in 19 middle- and high schools, with a student body of more than 20,000 students in Oakland Unified and San Leandro Unified school districts in Alameda County, and Sweetwater Union, Oceanside Unified, and Juvenile Court & Community Schools in San Diego County.

• Youth Mental Health First Aid training for thousands of educators 
Working with the California Department of Education, the BlueSky program will fund Youth Mental Health First Aid training for thousands of public-school teachers and staff. By providing school personnel with resources to support student mental health, the program will reach tens of thousands of students in classrooms across the state.

• Support for student-led peer groups in high schools 
In collaboration with National Alliance on Mental Illness California (NAMI), BlueSky is supporting the creation and expansion of student-led clubs in high schools throughout the state. NAMI on Campus clubs raise mental health awareness and reduce stigma in schools through peer-led activities, education, and advocacy.

• Online mental health and resilience resources for all students 
In 2020, DoSomething.org, the largest organization for young people and social change, will join BlueSky to further equip and empower students with the tools they need to promote positive and effective mental health within their schools, communities, and ultimately, themselves.

The BlueSky initiative will be evaluated by a research team from the University of California, San Francisco's Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies to determine the impact on student- and school-level outcomes.

"Educators are on the front lines in recognizing Adverse Childhood Experiences as a public health crisis. Research shows that positive adult relationships, peer-to-peer support, and mental health services are critical to helping young people heal. This collaboration is truly about the intersection of education and health," says Nadine Burke Harris, MD, Surgeon General of California.

"Increasing mental health supports for our students and educators, is a top priority for the California Department of Education," says Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. "We are grateful that Blue Shield of California recognizes this need, and is actively supporting our teachers, counselors, staff, and students."