Mental well being is just as important as making sure kids have food, warm clothes and a safe place to live.
In this Healthier Together story with Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah, we're highlighting a program that is helping with mental health.
The Utah School Mental Health Collaborative is funded by Regence BlueCross BlueShield's parent company, Cambia Health Solutions, and was developed at the University of Utah to help develop more effective mental health systems for students.
Students go through screenings three times every academic year to identify each child's strengths and needs. Think of it like those hearing and vision screenings your kids have in school, only these focus on their mental well being.
Principal Matt Smith at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education at Bryant Middle School says, "We're very lucky here to have clinicians from the U of U on site to help kids, where we can provide that safe space where they can build skills on navigating a really challenging world."
The program is going strong at Principal Smith's school, and he says it's been a game changer. "I've had multiple parents in my office when they find out we have that resource, just tear up because it's so hard to see your little human, the person that you love more than anything, and the thing you worry about every day, struggling with something that very few of us really know how to help them navigate. We've been able to remove pretty much all the barriers and say this is something that we have here, that we can provide, it's a game changer."
Dr. Aaron Fischer from the College of Education at the University of Utah says what's new about this collaborative is that students can get the help they need earlier.
Now they're taking the program into rural schools in Utah, as well as in underserved communities.
"We're able to customize the needs based on each school. We're really trying not to say it's a "one size fits all" school mental health program. What we're saying is that schools even in close proximity may have different climates and different cultures and different communities that they serve and so we really want to understand what is that community and what they need," says Dr. Fischer.
But, he says it takes a village. "It's going take all the players, everyone in the community, to really come together and say you're not less if you struggle with anxiety. You're not less if you're depressed. But this is part of being human and having the experience. And if we can empathize and be compassionate to one another we can actually help each other get through it so we don't have to see these really terrible things that happen, or have to go inpatient, or institutionalized. or even worse," says Dr. Fischer.