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California Healthcare Provider Pledges $10 Million To Fund Mental Health Workers in Schools

Blue Shield of California has launched an initiative to address the lack of mental health resources in California schools.

With parents and teachers troubled by rates of teen depression and students’ potential to hurt themselves or others, one healthcare plan provider is taking action.

Blue Shield of California has partnered up with the California Department of Education to fund the salaries of mental health specialists at 19 public high schools and middle schools across the state. The total donation amounts to $10 million.

The multi-year initiative, called BlueSky, was built by a coalition of organizations, including Blue Shield, Wellness Together, the National Alliance on Mental Illness California, and the education department. In addition to adding more clinicians, the effort will train teachers to look for signs of mental health problems and offer online support services to students.

“We liked the idea of starting out being close to home and trying to influence the community so many of us are spending our professional lives in or near,” Blue Shield of California CEO Paul Markovich told The San Francisco Chronicle. “There is a lot more adversity children are facing. The ability to have resilience to deal with that adversity is crucial to their long-term health and happiness.”

Nine of the schools receiving mental health specialists for five years are in Oakland and San Leandro, while the remaining schools are in San Diego County.

A recent report released by the Secret Service on the traits of school attackers found that all students who targeted their campuses experienced a stressor in the days or months leading up to the incident. A smaller portion of those students had behavioral or developmental issues that were either not addressed or under-addressed by the school.

The study also found that only 17 percent of schools that were attacked had a system for students to file a report about a classmate who was experiencing severe mental health issues, demonstrating a lack of resources available to students on campus. Educators should be on the lookout for self-harm and sudden behavioral shifts, which could indicate that a teen may be contemplating violent behavior, the study found.

Lina Alathari, the head of the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, which conducted the study, said that a “constellation of behaviors and factors” lead a student to carry out an attack.

"These are not sudden, impulsive acts where a student suddenly gets disgruntled," Alathari told the Associated Press. "The majority of these incidents are preventable.”

Markovich said in a statement that Blue Shield hopes to improve the resiliency of students and their overall emotional wellbeing with the initiative.

“No one is immune to adversity, yet each person’s future depends on his or her ability to cope through life’s challenges,” he said. “Our goal through Blue Shield of California BlueSky is to empower and support students by helping them develop resilience and emotional well-being today, so they have a lifetime of good health in front of them.”

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