BlueSky initiative reimagines youth mental health

Program boosts mental health support for California middle- and high-school students

Pregnant woman indoors meditating with eyes closed in lotus pose

With a global pandemic, school closures, national protests over racial injustice, major job losses, and wildfires has made 2020 a hard year for everyone. This is especially true for youth in communities of color who are navigating what these challenges may mean for their future.

Even before COVID-19, mental disorders affected up to 1 in 5 U.S. children each year, costing an estimated $247 billion annually To address this sobering statistic, in 2019 Blue Shield of California launched the BlueSky initiative to support youth mental health throughout the state. BlueSky is a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort to enhance awareness, advocacy, and access to mental health support for middle and high school students statewide.

Providing mental health services at school increases kids’ access to care and improves school performance. Addressing mental health concerns early (PDF, 5MB) is vital. Fifty percent of mental illness onset occurs before the age of 14, and 75 percent occurs by age 24.

Youth Support

BlueSky funds school-based programs with one-on-one therapy sessions for students most in need in Alameda and San Diego counties. BlueSky partners with Wellness Together and its team of mental health specialists. This partnership helps maintain a robust schedule of online counseling sessions with youth, offering support to hundreds of students.

Results in the first year:

  • 3,855 counseling sessions completed at 19 schools in the 2019-20 year, including individual, group, family, and crisis counseling
  • The program pivoted to videoconference and phone sessions during school closures

BlueSky’s collaboration with led to a first-of-its-kind mental health guide created for students, by students. This unique guide, which helps parents and educators understand the complexities of youth stress, gives voice to students who are coping with stress and anxiety during these difficult times. For example, pre-teens and teens are continuing to deal firsthand with the effects of distance learning, stress, and isolation.

Results in the first year:

  • 48,533 youth signed up for the campaign and submitted 74,000+ tips in three months
  • The guide published at the start of the new school year on September 1, 2020.


With the help of NAMI California, high school students formed clubs that raise mental health awareness, educate the campus community, and promote services and support vehicles that empower youth advocates.

Results in the first year:

  • In June 2020, NAMI CA hosted an online Youth Symposium involving hundreds of youth, adult partners, and advocates. The Symposium was entitled “Empowering Youth to Change Conversations Around Metal Health.”
  • 49 active clubs operate throughout the state, with three of them formed since January 2020. NAMI CA is actively working to shift to online clubs and trainings.


Teacher Support

Because teachers are vital to youth growth and development, BlueSky partnered with the California Department of Education to expand access to Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). YMHFA is a training program for thousands of public school teachers and caring adults to identify mental health warning signs in youth. The program offers practical steps for supporting youth in in need of help.

Results in the first year:

  • Conducted 34 Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings in the 2019-20 year
  • Trained 867 adults, primarily teachers
  • Adapted in-person training for virtual and hybrid formats


Community Support

With the onset of COVID-19, it became clear that youth would need deeper community support to maintain healthy minds. BlueSky reached out to trusted community-based organizations that serve youth in San Diego and Alameda Counties, funding youth programs in the arts, sports, music,  leadership, and tele-counseling areas. This mini-grant program helped youth access support outside of school.

Results in the first year:

  • BlueSky provided $300,000 across 18 organizations, with mini-grants of $10,000-15,000 each
  • Programming reached vulnerable populations and helped communities support youth needs

Building awareness and mental health literacy helps Californians connect to resources and support, and removes the stigma that exists for many around seeking mental health support.

This work can’t be done alone. The heart of the BlueSky initiative rests with community partners that lead the youth mental health movement and make healthy minds a reality for California’s youth.