LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield-funded charity is investing nearly $6 million into mental health for the Natural State’s young people.

The charity, the Blue and You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas, announced Thursday that it was providing $5.9 million in grants to address mental health challenges, including suicide and substance use among the state’s children, teens and young adults.

Grant recipients include the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the Wolfe Street Foundation, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Arkansas Chapter and Immerse Arkansas. The grants will provide multi-year funding for program objectives as well as providing a mentorship program for new mental health therapists through Immerse.

The need for mental health services is seen in statistics for the state, including that 9% of Arkansas children have witnessed domestic violence and 16% have an incarcerated parent, according to a UAMS study.  

Additional findings from UAMS and the state’s Department of Human Services show continued issues. Findings include that one in seven of the state’s young people experience neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse each year, 13% live with a parent with a substance use problem and 10% of sixth graders have used substances in the last 30 days. Suicide claimed 49 young adults, children and teens in Arkansas in 2020, researchers found.

Blue and You executive director Rebecca Pittillo said young people are underserved, a situation that is being addressed by the grants.

“Young Arkansans are historically underserved when it comes to resources and treatment surrounding substance use and behavioral health challenges,” she said. “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.”

“Trauma, substance use and suicide — addressing these three behavioral health needs of Arkansas’s youth and adolescents is undoubtedly a tremendous challenge,” Curtis Barnett, Arkansas Blue Cross president and CEO said. “But we believe the programs of these trusted organizations can successfully impact the barriers and challenges in our state. We are confident these programs will build on the success we have experienced and bring a brighter future for our youth in Arkansas.”

Blue and You representatives state that since 2001 the foundation has awarded more than $58 million to nonprofits and governmental agencies in all 75 Arkansas counties.