13:07 PM

Prioritizing Youth Mental Health in Yuma with Mental Health First Aid

By: Dr. Christine Bracamonte Wiggs, Staff Vice President, Community & Health Advancement at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona 

During the past couple of years, stress levels and other mental health concerns have increased around the world. According to NAMI, 87,000 Arizonans ages 12 to 17 have depression. We experienced an increased amount of tragedy and loss due to the pandemic, which impacted our ways of coping and maintaining a healthy mental state. This reality is especially true among our youth population.  

Mental health is a crucial part of overall health and well-being, and impacts how well students do in school, at work, and in society. NAMI states that 1 in 6 U.S. youth ages 6 to 17 experience a mental health disorder each year, and high school students with depression are two times more likely to drop out than their peers. 

Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) is one resource many organizations and school systems are using to address the mental health needs of youth ages 12 to 18. YMHFA increases awareness about risk factors and warning signs for mental health and substance use disorders, and provides strategies for helping someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations along with information about where to turn for help. 

Yuma Union High School District (YUHSD) recognizes how formative the high school years are to each student’s future success. In 2020, it implemented a YMHFA program to help the well-being of its students. YUHSD received $10,000 in grant funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) which helped jumpstart implementation of YMHFA training, beginning with training district staff and teachers.  

According to James Kuzniak, a teacher who works at Gila Ridge High School, after taking the district’s YMHFA training he feels like he has a strong understanding of the importance of mental health and knows more about what to do in the event that one of his students needs help. He said what stood out to him the most was being able to work with others from across the district, and hearing the number and variety of personal stories and scenarios they have encountered.  

The YUHSD has been able to train more than 60% of its staff and it expects that its entire team will be fully trained by October 2022. The district was able to increase the training of its staff with the help of its local community health department and local youth organizations. The district partnered with the Arizona Youth Partnership (AZYP) and the Yuma County Health Department to complete virtual training for district staff while district trainers complete the in-person training for teachers. The district also added this crucial training to employee onboarding plans for all its new full-time staff members. 

Together, BCBSAZ and the YUHSD are committed to supporting the mental health of youth. If you are a parent, family member, caregiver, teacher, school staff member, teen, neighbor, or health and human services worker, and would like to learn more about Youth Mental Health First Aid and how it is helping to prioritize the mental health of our youth, visit: