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Blue & You Foundation to invest nearly $6 million in Arkansas behavioral health programs

Investing in the Behavioral Health of Arkansans

On October 5, 2023, the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas announced grants totaling $5.9 million, aimed at addressing mental health challenges, suicide and substance use among Arkansas children, teens and young adults.

“Young Arkansans are historically underserved when it comes to resources and treatment surrounding substance use and behavioral health challenges,” said Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas Executive Director Rebecca Pittillo. “The Blue & You Foundation hopes by investing in these programs, which have shown proven results, that we can begin to build life-long health, resiliency and well-being for our children and their families — tools they can carry with them throughout their lives.”

The grants target three of the biggest areas of concern as identified by federal and state data — trauma, substance use and suicide.

  • 9% of Arkansas children have witnessed domestic violence
  • 16% have an incarcerated parent
  • 1 in 7 experience neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse in a given year
  • 13% live with a parent with a substance use problem
  • 7% of sixth graders have used substances in the last 30 days.
  • 24 young adults in Arkansas, along with 25 children and teens died by suicide in 2020

Grant recipients

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences: $1,610,477 over four years to fund its Pathways to Wellness program, creating a virtual AR ConnectNow welcome center for youth and families containing mental health resources and expanding the Trauma Resource Initiative in Arkansas Schools.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences: $714,809 over two years benefitting the Adolescent and Young Adult Addiction Treatment Program. The program will provide treatment options and prevention programs for young Arkansans with a focus on engaging parents in the recovery process.

The Wolfe Street Foundation: $850,927 over three years for the purpose of expanding substance use treatment resources to youth in 7th through 12th grades in Pulaski County by providing after-school programs, summertime programming and community initiatives, working with area schools, courts and behavioral healthcare providers.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Arkansas Chapter: $900,000 over three years to expand its suicide prevention programs statewide through public schools, colleges, universities and community groups.

Immerse Arkansas: $1,418,252 over three years to provide mental health resources to young people in Faulkner, Lonoke, Pulaski and Saline counties who are either in foster care or aging out, adopted homeless or runaway and victims of trafficking. Funds will also be used to create a mentorship program for new mental health therapists.

Equipping Community with Resources to Support Youth Mental Health

A recent survey conducted by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences emphasized the struggle parents in Arkansas have in finding resources to support the mental health of youth.

“We learned about the struggles parents were having, whether it was trying to access services or understanding what was normal teen-age behavior and what was a mental health issue,” said Dr. Nikki Edge, UAMS professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. “We’re setting up a one-stop virtual shop for families to access mental health-related information, referrals and self-help resources.”

Arkansas families are actively seeking treatment for substance use, a need UAMS aims to address through a new treatment program.

“The vision of the UAMS Adolescent and Young Adult Addiction Treatment Program is to provide comprehensive assessment and treatment of adolescents and young adults with substance use disorders and to provide a broad range of community outreach efforts to raise awareness and enhance prevention, screening and referral to treatment,” added UAMS Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Srinivasa Gokarakonda. “This program will provide evidence-based and coordinated care, addressing the continuum of intervention, from prevention to intensive treatment for individuals who have developed dependency, as well as bridging existing gaps in services.

Expanding Vital Services for Arkansas Youth

Funding awarded to the Wolfe Street Foundation will enable that organization to expand the services it provides to include Arkansas children facing substance use challenges.

“The Wolfe Street Foundation is proud to partner with the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas to help young Arkansans envision a bright future without the use of drugs or alcohol,” said Wolfe Street Foundation Executive Director Justin Buck. “With this support, we’re launching one of Arkansas’ first youth recovery programs — helping kids create healthy connection to their community and find recovery from substance use challenges. We will help schools, courts, and healthcare providers respond to the needs of kids and families and equip our community to build healthy futures.”

The grants are part of a more than $10 million commitment initially announced by the Blue & You Foundation in 2019 to improve behavioral health in Arkansas, making resources more readily available and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.

“The Arkansas Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. With support from the Blue & You Foundation, the Arkansas Chapter of AFSP will expand its efforts to provide state-wide suicide prevention education, loss support, and research,” said Jacqueline Sharp, area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention/Arkansas Chapter. “This project will increase capacity for state-wide suicide prevention education in K-12 schools, colleges/universities, community groups, churches, and workplaces; provide support for loss survivors; increase the impact of our Project 2025 initiative; and connect the Arkansas community with AFSP-funded researchers.”

Providing Support in Challenging Times

The non-profit Immerse Arkansas also plans to expand services.

“Immerse is excited to partner with the Blue & You Foundation to provide first-class behavioral health support to youth and young adults that are facing some of life’s toughest challenges,” said Immerse Arkansas Executive Director Eric Gilmore. “This project will allow us to hire and train much-needed therapists who will provide a high level of support to youth who are aging out of foster care, runaway, homeless, or experiencing a crisis situation. In addition, this project will provide these youth with transformational experiences that serve to kickstart and accelerate a young person’s journey toward healing. Together, these youth will experience backpacking, sporting events, floating the river — and more, often for the first time.”

The Blue & You Foundation is a charitable foundation established and funded by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield to promote better health in the Natural State.

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