October 27, 2020

Sharing an innovative approach to youth mental health

Don Mordecai, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s national leader for mental health and wellness, encourages young people to prioritize their emotional wellness.

The challenge: How can we effectively help young people maintain their mental health, particularly in the middle of a pandemic?

During this time of heightened stress, social isolation, fear, and anxiety, teens and young adults need mental health support more than ever. The disruption caused by COVID-19 affects young people, not just in terms of isolation and loss of community, but also due to the elimination of some significant rites of passage, including graduation ceremonies, proms, athletic programs, and other milestone moments.

Sharing innovative solutions to national health care issues was the focus of the HLTH VRTL 2020 conference, pronounced “Health Virtual 2020.” At this virtual gathering of health industry authorities, government officials, policy experts, tech industry professionals, and influencers, Kaiser Permanente mental health care leaders shared an exciting new approach to supporting youth mental health.

Reaching young people where they spend their time in the world of gaming and esports

Kaiser Permanente’s national leader for mental health and wellness, Don Mordecai, MD, delivered a joint presentation with Jack Etienne, co-founder and CEO of professional esports organization Cloud9. They discussed Presence of Mind, a first-of-its-kind initiative to help young people in the gaming and esports communities understand the importance of emotional wellness.

Presence of Mind is an opportunity to reach youth and young adults with positive mental health messages in places where they spend a lot of their time online gaming and esports platforms. In the past year, 75% of Americans ages 14 to 21 either played or watched some kind of video game or esports competition.

“Our focus is simple but challenging — we want to reduce the stigma around mental health and encourage teens and young adults to prioritize their mental health and well-being,” Dr. Mordecai explained. “At its core, Presence of Mind is about behavior change.”

This behavior change aims to shift young people’s understanding of mental health — taking them from being uninformed to becoming advocates for mental health. 

Building skills and encouraging honest conversations about mental health

Presence of Mind is designed to connect with young people in a variety of ways. Kaiser Permanente clinicians provide mental health training for players, coaches, and staff. A new talk show on Cloud9’s Twitch.tv channel features gamers, streamers, and esports athletes talking about managing stress, focusing on self-care, and building resilience. Along with the talk show, a series of short videos showcases the power of positivity by featuring players exchanging compliments rather than flaming (or insulting) each other.

A brand-new approach to reducing stigma in this community, announced at the HLTH conference for the first time, is providing mental health training specifically tailored for gaming moderators, who play an important role in helping to manage streaming and social media platforms. Training moderators will increase the understanding of mental health among gamers and encourage gamers to talk openly and without shame about mental health with one another.

“Often the moderators are some of the first people to see cries for help from our community,” Etienne said. “They can identify people that might be reaching out and looking for some help, and they can reach out and give vital information.”

“We want to move the gaming community from being complacent about its mental health to prioritizing it,” said Dr. Mordecai. “We want people to have empathy and become allies for those with mental health conditions. And it’s especially important now during COVID-19.”

Our vision for mental health and wellness

Kaiser Permanente is at the forefront of mental health and wellness, fueling the global conversation, and engaging with diverse partners to make mental health and wellness a reality for all.