Addressing Bullying and Behavioral Health in Montana

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines youth bullying as, “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.” The modes and types of bullying are further defined below by the CDC in its uniform definitions.

Studies show that bullying negatively affects physical and mental health, and is linked to depression and anxiety, substance abuse and suicide. And it not only affects those who are bullied, but also those who bully and those who witness bullying.

In addition to The Big Blue Sky Initiative, we’ve been busy supporting – and will continue to support – Montanans and organizations doing similar work throughout the state to combat bullying, and to provide support for behavioral health and access to healthy physical activity. There is hope and there is help. Together, we can make a difference.

BCBSMT Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® Grant Program
Since 2014, BCBSMT has awarded nearly $1.5 million in Healthy Kids, Healthy Families (HKHF) grants, with 21 grants and more than 60 percent of those dollars directly impacting depression and suicide prevention efforts. HKHF is a signature program of BCBSMT and part of an ongoing commitment to invest in and partner with nonprofit organizations that offer sustainable, measurable programs to reach children and their families in the five following areas: nutrition, physical activity, disease prevention and management, substance abuse prevention, and suicide prevention.

HKHF suicide prevention investments:

East Helena Public Schools: PAXIS Good Behavior Game
East Helena Public Schools PAXIS Good Behavior Game Photo

Spleems, Pax positions and granny wacky prizes don’t sound like part of a usual math lesson. However, for teachers in grades kindergarten through third grade in the East Helena School District, these are common themes that have been woven throughout their instruction since the start of the 2017 school year.

It is all part of the PAXIS Good Behavior Game, a program implemented by the district. It’s designed to reduce behavioral and mental health issues through a scientific, teacher-implemented intervention program. The program was made possible through grants provided by American Chemet and BCBSMT.

East Helena School District Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said the district was seeking ways to not only meet the academic needs of students, but also to support and strengthen their ability to cope with the social, emotional, and behavioral challenges to improve their lifelong mental well-being. The district chose this program from recommendations and because it has proven results as an effective way to address these critical needs at an early age. That way, the district could influence student suicide resistance much later in life.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that from 2005 to 2014, suicide was the No. 2 cause of death in Montana for children ages 10-14, adolescents ages 15-24, and adults ages 25-44. East Helena families and the community are sadly familiar with the impact of teen suicide. Several youths have taken their own lives over the last five years.

“For these reasons, we reached out to American Chemet and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana for resources to address the significant concerns we were having with addressing suicide long before the critical period of a child’s life was reached,” Whitmoyer said. “The district would not have been able to bring this program to our district without our community partners. Thank you to American Chemet and BCBSMT for this tremendous gift to our kids and community.”

Read an in-depth feature on the program’s first year in East Helena Public Schools.

ChildWise Institute
Since 2015, BCBSMT has contributed to the ChildWise Institute, which is the educational and advocacy arm of Intermountain, based in Helena.

ChildWise’s foundational belief is that the most important thing facing our world today is the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being of children. The institute works collaboratively with others to elevate the well-being of children, and BCBSMT is proud to partner with ChildWise in this ongoing effort. BCBSMT has sponsored ChildWise conferences since 2015.

  • 2019: ChildWise Fall Summit: The Impact of Sexual Trauma
    • Description: Sexual Trauma is a phrase used to describe any sexual act that is imposed on another person without their consent. It can be an ongoing experience or a one-time event and can be known as Sexual Abuse or Sexual Violence. Examples of sexual trauma could be sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, stalking, childhood sexual abuse, familial sexual abuse or incest, online sexual harassment, sexual violence in relationships and sex trafficking.
  • 2018: ChildWise Fall Summit: The Power of 1
    • Description: In March 2015, Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child released a study saying, “Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.” Maybe this child is 7 and on your baseball team. Maybe she’s your 12-year-old granddaughter. Maybe he’s 15 and lives in your neighborhood. Whoever it may be, you have the power to make a positive and significant difference in their lives.
  • 2017: ChildWise Fall Summit: The Brain Behind the Behavior
    • Description: Adolescence is a window of opportunity for developing a healthy, smarter, faster brain. It is the time when the brain becomes more efficient and develops more advanced skills. But it can also be a time of missed opportunities and vulnerabilities if a teen does not challenge her/his brain, or exposes the brain to neurotoxins, such as alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Similar to what happens in early childhood, adolescent brain development is a period of ‘use it or lose it’. Brain connections that are stimulated and used repeatedly grow stronger while unused connections wither away. How teens spend their time – their activities and experiences – influences both the organization and also the capacity of the brain.
  • 2015: ChildWise Fall Conference: Elevate Montana ACE Study Summit
    • Description: This conference was designed to accelerate awareness and knowledge of the ACE Study into practical strategies and actions to mitigate toxic stress manifested in children through abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. This summit focused on the question, “Now that you know about ACEs, what will you do about it?” Participants will learn proven strategies and best practices surrounding ACEs and trauma-informed approaches utilized by parents, professionals, organizations, schools and communities.
Governor’s Cup and Kids Marathon

Sometimes all it takes to start a fire is a little spark.

That’s the thought behind the Governor’s Cup road races, which are held annually on the second Saturday in June. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana presents the annual event in Helena to provide people with a fun and festive opportunity to celebrate the benefits of exercise and healthy lifestyle choices with their friends and neighbors. The event also serves as the primary fundraiser for The Caring Foundation of Montanasm.

For more than 45 years, the Governor’s Cup has sparked fires inside the bellies of numerous participants in the marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K, and Kids Marathon and Fun Run. Dating back to the first race in 1974, the Governor’s Cup has seen more than 150,000 participants cross the finish line with about 3,500 expected to take part annually. That’s a lot of sparks and the hope is that most of those have resulted in fitness fires still burning hot.

Kids Marathon

The event’s diverse menu of races sets the Governor’s Cup apart, and the Kids Marathon adds to that tradition.

The Kids Marathon program is free and designed for elementary school students in the Helena area, with the hope to expand its reach in the coming years. Governor’s Cup organizers are working with area schools to introduce a Governor’s Cup training program that culminates with a 1-mile Fun Run around Centennial Park to complete to kick off the weekend’s festivities.

Students who take part in the entire program receive a free T-shirt and entry into the Fun Run. But more importantly, the Kids Marathon is intended to provide students with an incentive to be more active and to enjoy the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices, which goes to the heart of the Governor’s Cup’s mission.

KaBOOM! Playground Builds

BCBSMT annually partners with KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids, to build a playground in one day. Since the program’s inception, BCBSMT has helped build six playgrounds in various communities around the state.