Nearly half of all Americans will meet criteria for a mental health condition sometime in their life, and half will develop conditions by the age of 14, according to Mental Health America.
Fifteen percent of youth experienced a major depressive episode within the last year, according to another 2022 study.
On top of those disturbing statistics, racial disparities persist within the St. Louis region, where Black children under the age of 15 are more than three times as likely to seek emergency room services for mental health concerns compared to their white counterparts. Similarly, in St. Louis County, Black children in the same age range are twice as likely to seek emergency care or be inpatients for mental health. These alarming findings underscore the critical need for accessible services and holistic care.
“Access to school and community-based services and broad support for mental wellness for students, families and school personnel is extremely important,” says Angela Martin Davis, BJC Behavioral Health vice president.
In support of its commitment to community health improvement, BJC HealthCare has established community wellness hubs in under-resourced neighborhoods disproportionately facing daily stress across the City of St. Louis and north St. Louis County. Programs and services provided in the hubs are designed based on insights from community residents and community organizations. They provide children and families various wellness programs such yoga, meditation, journaling and healthy eating.
“BJC is committed to advancing equitable health and educational outcomes by increasing access to comprehensive support for children, families and communities,” says Doneisha Bohannon, BJC director of partnership and collaborations, Community Health Improvement.
“Our hope for these wellness hubs is to provide a space for children, youth and families to come, relax and take a deep breath, and get access to services such as health care, nutrition and physical activity. The pandemic affected the mental health of our community members and by offering these programs, our community will have access to the support they need for overall behavioral health and wellness.”
The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine estimates that up to one in five children experiences a mental health challenge in any given year. “However, the burden of mental health problems is not accepted equally among children, as racial disparities among children in the St. Louis region illustrate,” says Martin Davis.
There are also significant racial disparities in educational outcomes, Martin Davis adds.
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the annual dropout rate in 2020 for Black students in the city of St. Louis and North County districts was more than twice as that of white students, and the highest within St. Louis Public Schools.
“The number of years a child is in school is one of the strongest and most consistent predictors of health outcomes, and healthy children are better able to attend, connect and succeed in school,” says Martin Davis. “Together, we can help children advance equitable health and educational outcomes by increasing access to comprehensive support for children and staff in early learning and K-12 settings and surrounding communities.”
“This program provides an opportunity to expand behavioral health services across the community, working with community-based organizations to develop these wellness hubs to ensure equitable access to behavioral health support throughout the year,” says Martin Davis. “These community wellness hubs can serve as central locations for holistic wellness, including mental, physical and spiritual health, offering vital services and meeting people in an already trusted community organization while prioritizing overall well-being.”
The community wellness hubs will be located in high-visibility areas near major transportation corridors and will be part of existing, accessible service networks. BJC is working with trusted community gathering places including, but not limited to, youth-serving organizations, recreation centers and libraries across the City of St. Louis and North County.
Over the past year, three community wellness hubs were established at the St. Louis County Library’s three North County locations (Lewis & Clark, Parkview and Natural Bridge), as well as two additional locations at Wohl Recreation Center and Marquette Recreation Center. These hubs will help to:
- Improve access to behavioral health services and supports
- Expand delivery of out-of-school-time health and wellness programming for children, youth and their caregivers
- Increase access to essential services including health care, nutrition and physical activity
- Increase Medicaid, SNAP and WIC enrollments for eligible neighbors
BJC received more than 500 responses from community residents who identified the need for self-care, healthy eating, mindfulness and yoga programs. In response, in November 2022 BJC began providing such programs free of charge across each site during convenient times for community residents.
“BJC also is providing other social supports onsite such as access to food, enrollment assistance and disease prevention and management,” Bohannon adds.
“These community wellness hubs demonstrate BJC’s commitment to the healthiest possible lives of our community members and support health and well-being beyond the walls of our hospitals," Bohannon adds. "Our hope is that these hubs will continue to be a well-used resource to focus on preventing behavioral health challenges and provide preventive programming in the community.”
To learn more, provide support through a philanthropic partnership or get involved in BJC HealthCare’s Community Wellness Hub program or other community health improvement programs, please contact [email protected].