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South Bay schools partner with insurance company to address student mental health challenges

Program places counselors on campus
Posted at 8:36 AM, Dec 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-27 11:36:07-05

SAN YSIDRO, Calif. (KGTV) - Studies show that 1 in 5 teenagers has series mental health issues, but few can get the help they need. To fight that, schools across San Diego County have partnered with Blue Shield of California for the BlueSky program.

The program puts mental health counselors on campus to give students easy access to professionals for help. It also trains teachers to identify mental health problems in teens better.

"They have anxiety, relationship issues, a lot of family separation due to immigration problems," says Katherin Hercules, a mental health specialist at San Ysidro High School. "Children are sometimes dealing with grief and the loss of a loved one. They've told me this is a place they feel safe and can come and express their emotions."

Blue Shield plans to spend $10 million over the next five years to help address the issue. They've partnered with ten schools in San Diego County, reaching 16,000 students.

"Mental health and emotional health affects student's ability to learn, to build healthy relationships, and it also affects their physical health," explains Dr. Kimberly Bower from Blue Shield. "This is a problem we can't solve with just one intervention or short term intervention."

Placing counselors on campus also helps eliminate barriers to treatment, such as lack of transportation or long wait times. Hercules says students at her school can usually get a face-to-face appointment with her in about a day or two.

The pilot program also helps many schools with budget issues. As budgets shrink, resources like on-site counselors are often cut. This helps restore the service.

"We have to make hard decisions on a regular basis about what are the things we can provide our students and our families," says SUHSD's Manny Rubio. "This just provides a little bit extra we don't have to worry about."

The local schools involved in the program are:
- Eastlake High School
- Otay Ranch High School
- San Ysidro High School
-Castle Park Middle School
- El Camino High School
- Oceanside High School
- Jefferson Middle School
- King Middle School
- ECB 37 High
- North County Technology and Science Academy

Blue Shield also chose nine schools in the Oakland area for the pilot program.

Rubio says the Sweetwater district plans to expand the program starting next fall. And the extra training the teachers will receive will continue to help students even after the program runs its course.