Oct 1, 2023

Tackling an incredibly important issue: The youth mental health crisis

Dr. ShafiSeptember is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and May is Mental Health Awareness Month. However, one of the biggest healthcare challenges we’re collectively facing today isn’t just confined to those months that shine a light on it – it’s the mental health crisis for our youth and adolescents.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) has made pediatric behavioral health a core component of our 2025 strategy. Specifically, we’ve committed to supporting the mental well-being of 50 percent of RI youth under age 18 (roughly 110,000 youth) by 2025 by engaging them, caretakers, schools, the community, and our healthcare network.

It's a very bold goal, but it’s also a significant issue that requires a great deal of resource and effort to tackle. We plan to do that through a three-pronged approach – centered around awareness, advocacy, and access –that encompasses measures around prevention, early detection and treatment, and acute or high-intensity treatment.

Our efforts in these areas are aimed at reducing inpatient and emergency department utilization and increasing professional outpatient visits. Specific initiatives we’re undertaking, supporting, and funding include:

  • Embedding emotional wellness activities in libraries, faith-based organizations, schools, and other community organizations where we can reach this population
  • Providing families and caretakers with digital emotional wellness coaching
  • Partnering to train providers in evidence-based care
  • Investments in care management to expand outpatient capacity
  • Embedding community health workers in PCP offices
  • Training youth organizations in mental health first aid
  • Supporting mobile crisis intervention
  • Expanding funding for urgent access appointments
  • Engaging providers and families in successful transitions

SUCCESSful interventions begin in our schools

One major initiative we’ve invested in is Project SUCCESS, which stands for Schools Using Coordinated Community Efforts to Strengthen Students. This is an evidence-based program designed to prevent and reduce substance use among you ages 12-18, with a goal of early identification and intervention for behavioral health issues. Through the program, master’s degree-level counselors are embedded in schools to provide screenings, brief interventions, treatment referrals, and programming for students.

Delivered by Rhode Island Student Assistance Services (RISAS), Project SUCCESS serves roughly 55,000 youth in 80 middle and high schools in 33 school districts throughout the state. The program has demonstrated success in reducing depression, suicidal ideation, and substance use. BCBSRI’s funding will ensure that the program continues for the next three years while the state secures sustainable funding.

Providing resources for parents

The youth mental health crisis hits close to home for parents, of course. During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, we asked our own associates to complete a survey about their own experiences using the behavioral healthcare system, and the results confirmed what we already knew – that parents feel overwhelmed and often don’t know where to turn for help for their children going through mental health crises. Of the 164 respondents, nearly three-quarters said they found accessing behavioral healthcare to be difficult or very difficult.

In response to these results, and realizing that most parents needing to find care most likely share the same frustrations, we recently created a “how-to” guide called “Finding Help for Kids and Teens: A Parent’s Guide to Mental Healthcare in Rhode Island.” This guide addresses best practices to help parents recognize a problem, support their child, find the right care, and locate resources.

The bottom line is this is a crisis that we all need to work together to make positive impacts toward. BCBSRI is hoping to provide a bridge to connect the dots across the continuum and impact change. As always, thank you for your partnership and all you do to help our members stay safe and healthy.