Back-to-school mental health interviews with Dr. Nicole Stelter

With kids heading back to school, parents, educators, and communities are concerned about the mental health challenges our young people face today. This was a crisis before the pandemic, and it has not only been magnified with the stress of COVID-19, remote learning, and mask protocols, but also with the intensity of current events, social media, and the polarized political climate. To learn how we can support our youth, we asked Dr. Nicole Stelter, PhD, LMFT, director of behavioral health for Blue Shield of California, common questions about youth mental health and wellness.

Q: Transitions are always tough, including going back to school after the summer. What advice would you give to parents and caregivers to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety – both for their children and for themselves?

A: The first day of school should not be “Day 1” for restarting back-to-school routines. Restart a week ahead so there’s more time to adjust and work out any issues. More important: Talk! Ask your kids questions about how they are feeling, what they’re looking forward to, and what they might be dreading. Empathize, don’t minimize. What may seem like a small worry to a parent might be a big deal to them. Finally, seek out resources from the school/district/Parent Teacher Association (PTA) so that you and your children are informed about current back-to-school information, policies, and protocols.

Q: Rising trends in adverse mental health among children have also posed major challenges for parents. How can communities, employers, and the health system better support parents?

A: For Communities: Support your kids’ schools, teachers, and staff. Many make efforts to provide services and support, but they are often not fully funded or prioritized. Attend school board meetings and make your voice heard that youth mental health and teacher/staff support is a priority for you, your children, and your community!

For Employers: Prioritize creating psychologically healthy workplaces that emphasize work/life balance and self-care. Review mental health, substance abuse, and employee assistance program (EAP) benefits. Communicate regularly with employees so they know how their benefits work, including where to call to access care, what costs they can expect (e.g., co pays), and that using these benefits is confidential.

At Blue Shield of California, we are working to review and improve our "end to end" provider experience to build out provider network and partnerships that will help us serve more Californians with their mental health/substance abuse needs. We also offer our members an array of services through our Wellvolution platform, including Ginger and Headspace – two digital health apps that provide tools to help users manage anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and other mental health challenges.

Dr. Stelter on the challenges of back-to-school mental health for KTLA TV Los Angles

This article features experts from two Blue Shield News Center posts on back-to-school mental health with Dr. Stelter – find her full Q&A here, and additional media interviews with Dr. Stelter here.

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