Partnering to Dismantle Stigma

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Northern California Kaiser Permanente therapists are partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs to offer socio-emotional support to underserved teens and families in North San Mateo County. Pictured, Kaiser Permanente therapist Katya Henriquez (far right) and the clubs’ staff.

According to the National Alliance On Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 teens, age 13 to 18, live with a mental health condition. Fifty percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24.

In 2018, Kaiser Permanente Northern California invested $30,000 in the San Mateo Boys & Girls Clubs of North San Mateo County to address mental health stigma affecting teens in 3 underserved communities in the region: South San Francisco, Daly City, and Pacifica. Families in these communities have traditionally shied away from mental health services.

In partnership with the Daly City Youth Health Center, a key provider of health services to teens, Kaiser Permanente Northern California therapists are surveying teens in local high schools in all 3 of these communities and through the clubs. In addition, the therapists provide trainings for the clubs’ staff on how to work with youth who may have, or have been identified as having, a mental illness.

The grant to the clubs is part of a Kaiser Permanente Northern California 2018 $2 million investment to support 25 community-based organizations working to reduce stigma around mental illness.

“We are confronting mental health stigma in a way we haven’t in North San Mateo County, which will result in more people, and specifically, more youth, getting the help they need,” said Ken Shigematsu, LCSW, director for Outcomes and Clinical Innovation Projects at the Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center and Boys & Girls Clubs of North San Mateo County board member. “I could not be more excited and proud of how well we have done with this opportunity.”

‘Creating an Environment of Safety’

To date, about 150 of the clubs’ teens have been surveyed through the program. And by the end of the year, Kaiser Permanente therapists aim to gather survey data from a total of 300 teens to create free stigma education resources that can be used by other community organizations and public schools.

Katya Henriquez, MFT, a child therapist at the Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center, conducted a social-emotional learning seminar for the clubs’ staff, which helped participants understand and apply skills necessary to manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

“This training and collaboration is a great opportunity as a clinician to contribute what I have learned through being a therapist and from working with the communities I serve,” said Henriquez. “The clubs’ staff are central figures in our communities as they are the ones who see our children on a day-to-day basis. These interactions are crucial as they may help avoid mental health and other crises. They create an environment of safety for children to express their feelings and learn how to seek support.”

And the experience is meaningful for the clubs’ staff as well, many of whom are learning these skills for the first time, according to Jessica Leao, LCSW, a therapist in the program and division chief of Child and Adolescent Services at the Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center.

“The classes we teach are geared toward teens, but it helps the staff better understand themselves as well,” said Leao. “Many of them are between 18 and 25 years old, so this is an equally new and powerful experience for them.”

Aubrey Merriman, CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of North San Mateo County, shared this sentiment.

“We are very proud of the work we have done so far around addressing mental health stigma,” she said. “Our team has learned a great deal and are better prepared to address mental health issues with our youth at the Clubs.”

Read more about Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s work in the community to reduce stigma around mental illness.

Discussion1 Comment

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    The way we use language can also have an effect on reducing stigma. I’ve recently noticed the NYTimes using the term ‘brain health’ instead of mental illness, which for many lay people carries a negative connotation. It’s a simple yet powerful way to help readers start thinking about psychological well-being as biologically driven just like other health concerns, rather than some personal failure/weakness.

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