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Rounding the Bases: Addressing the Stigma around Behavioral Health to Help Kids and Teens

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) partnered with Emmy award-winning sports broadcaster Joel Goldberg to bring awareness to the behavioral health challenges affecting our community on his podcast, Rounding the Bases. Kristin Gernon LCSW LMSW, a behavioral health training and development specialist at Blue KC, joined Joel and other guests including teenagers, educators, parents, frontline workers and first responders from local organizations to normalize the conversation around behavioral health and encourage Kansas Citians to seek help for themselves and loved ones in need.

These conversations are important to have to shift perceptions around the use of behavioral health services. We encourage everyone to listen to these podcasts, each lasting less than one hour, and share with your community. Below are summaries of each podcast to help familiarize you with our guests and share the important behavioral health advice and resources available to Blue KC members.  

Kyra & Micah – Zero Reasons Why | Mindful by Blue KC Special Series Part 1

Behavioral health, including mental and substance use disorders, has historically been a taboo topic. Local non-profit Zero Reasons Why, which is led by a council of teens, seeks to stop the stigma so that teens in need can seek the help they deserve. In the first episode of Blue KC’s special series on Rounding the Bases podcast, Kansas City-area high school students Kyra and Micah joined podcast host Joel Goldberg and Blue KC behavioral health expert Kristin Gernon to discuss the importance of being open about mental health issues so that teens can feel empowered to get help.

Zero Reasons Why is a community mobilization and story campaign to prevent teen suicide. The organization, says Micah, is a catalyst for addressing behavioral health issues in the community and reminding teens that they are not struggling alone.

According to Gernon, 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 4 youth or teens are said to be struggling with behavioral health needs. She says behavioral healthcare should be seen the same way as treating any physical ailment.

“Going forward, people should be able to talk about seeing their therapist or going to see a psychiatrist just as openly as they talk about seeing the dentist,” Gernon said.

Kyra and Micah urge teens in Kansas City and beyond to read the stories published on the Zero Reasons Why website to reinforce that they are not alone.

“By sharing stories, you can see there’s not one form of mental or behavioral health issue – it can look different for everyone,” Kyra said.

The group also discussed how behavioral health struggles have surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that changes including being at home full-time and having limited, or perhaps too much, interaction with others can impact relationships. This presents complexities for people of all ages and it’s important to acknowledge the effects it can have on people’s behavioral health.

Listen to the full episode below.

Angie Salava – Olathe Public Schools| Mindful by Blue KC Special Series Part 2

Depression, anxiety, substance use and other behavioral health conditions can impact how we manage our physical health and daily living challenges. Blue KC’s Kristin Gernon and Olathe Public Schools’ Angie Salava sat down virtually with Joel Goldberg for a discussion on how we can support kids and teens with their behavioral health needs during the pandemic and beyond.

Salava, who is Director of Emotional Learning and Mental Health Services for Olathe Public Schools as well as a member of the Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition, stressed the importance of equipping children with the language and resources they need to manage their feelings.

“Although our kids have many challenges during this time, they are able to articulate their needs,” Salava said. Salava also expressed that these conversations should start early, but in an age-appropriate manner.

“While we wouldn’t have the same conversations with second grade students that we would with high schoolers, we can, and should, have conversations on behavioral health in an age-appropriate manner,” she said. It’s important to have conversations with young kids about mental health the same way we teach preschoolers how to brush their teeth, eat their vegetables and get exercise.

“Feelings are okay and it’s okay to express those feelings – children need to know where to go when having feelings that overwhelm them or are too much to handle,” Gernon said. Similarly, parents need to understand the language their young children may use to express their feeling. A young child may not say “I’m sad or lonely,” but instead ask you to play with them.

Though it may seem surprising, severe mental health issues, including suicidal ideation, can occur in very young children. According to Gernon, she has seen children as young as 6 and 7 admitted to psychiatric hospitals for suicidal ideation. She says that although we often cannot control the circumstances that are making them feel this way, the earlier we can give them the language, support and resources they need, the better off their outcomes will be.

When it comes to older kids and teens, Gernon and Salava remind parents and children alike to be thoughtful about the language they use every day when talking about mental health. It’s important to be deliberate about not throwing around phrases such as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane,’ as they can deepen the stigma surrounding behavioral health issues. Being thoughtful about our language and approaching challenging conversations with care, they say, is a great step to breaking down that stigma.

Listen to the full episode below.

Kelly Specht – Carl’s Cause | Mindful by Blue KC Special Series Part 3

In the third episode of our special series on Rounding the Bases, Joel Goldberg welcomed behavioral health advocate Kelly Specht to talk about the devastating loss of her son, Carl, and how improving access to the care people need is a vital step in the fight against behavioral health issues.

Carl Specht died by suicide in 2017 – a sad culmination of his battle with depression as well as the stigma that surrounds behavioral health. Carl was a four-sport athlete, a member of the National Honor Society and an ‘all-American boy’ – not someone you would assume fits the mold of someone with behavioral health issues according to his mother. It’s important that people understand depression and behavioral health issues don’t discriminate based on your popularity or interests.

Lack of access to care, Specht says, played a major role in Carl’s ongoing battle with depression. Had conversations about behavioral health and available resources been part of his upbringing it may have eased the fear or stigma associated with getting help.

According to Blue KC behavioral health expert Kristin Gernon, this phenomenon isn’t uncommon. It’s important to recognize that unless we are asking the right questions and really tuning into our loved ones and others around us, we may not know what is truly going on with them, as people go to great lengths to hide their pain. Many people who attempt or die by suicide feel they are a burden to other people, and it’s critical to convey through everyday conversations that we care and want to help them if they are in need.

When Carl passed away, his parents vowed to “bring mental health awareness to the stadium level.” In 2018, Specht and her husband, Bob, started Carl’s Cause, a 501(c)(3) organization focused on raising awareness and funds through activities that Carl would have enjoyed. Sports has always been a cornerstone of the Specht family, and especially of Carl’s upbringing, so it made perfect sense to the Spechts to use sports to honor Carl’s memory. Carl’s Cause has evolved from tailgates to golf tournaments, and an annual dinner and auction, all in the name of creating awareness for mental health and to reassure people of all ages that they are not struggling alone.

Listen to the full episode below.

About Mindful by Blue KC

Almost two years ago, the Blue KC leadership team identified behavioral health as a focus area.. When we examined member data, we discovered more than half of members had a behavioral health condition and less than half of those individuals were seeking treatment. This finding kickstarted an educational series on behavioral health and, more importantly, the development of a new behavioral health initiative. In mid-2020, amid the global pandemic, we launched a new and enhanced behavioral health program called Mindful by Blue KC. Mindful by Blue KC is readily accessible and available to members now. At its core, the offering is a commitment Blue KC has made to cover the health of the whole person.

There are many different aspects of Mindful by Blue KC including:

  • Mindful Advocates – Mindful by Blue KC starts with Mindful Advocates, licensed behavioral health clinicians who are always just a call away and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Mindful Advocates are trained to match members to providers or services and guide care plans. They are a single point of contact for listening, navigating care, crisis management, benefits guidance, connecting and follow-ups.
  • Online Therapy – Virtual care isn’t just for your physical wellbeing. Through Mindful by Blue KC, our members now have access to text or scheduled live chats as well as phone and video sessions. This is intended for short-term therapy needs and is offered as part of the member’s Well-Being Resources which includes three sessions, at no cost, to help with conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress. Following these sessions, you can work with a Mindful Advocate to identify a more permanent resource using your Blue KC coverage.
  • Self-Guided Tools – Interactive and individually tailored program designed to help members improve and maintain overall well-being and resilience while supporting the physical and spiritual aspects of whole-person health.
  • Expedited Access Network: If you are in crisis, the network provides support to find a behavioral health appointment in the earliest window possible. Reach a Mindful Advocate at the Expedited Access Network by calling 833-302-MIND (6453) or by calling the number on the back of your card.

To learn more and get started, visit For additional resources related to suicide prevention and awareness, please visit our dedicated page on our website here.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line. Mindful Advocates are also available 24/7 to connect Blue KC members to the resources they need.