Virtual health tools are necessary for schools in addressing mental health | Opinion
During this back-to-school season, parents, students, and educators face a new set of challenges following a pandemic that has taken a massive toll on student mental health.
School environments, like that of Palm Harbor University High in Palm Harbor, Florida, have become hostile due to House Bill 1557, formally titled Parental Rights in Education. And school shooting tragedies like that of Uvalde, Texas, further highlight a need for expanded youth mental health services.
These stressors and more are impacting students across the U.S. In May 2022 it was reported that seven in 10 public schools saw a rise in the number of children seeking mental health services, and 76% reported faculty and staff members have expressed concerns about depression, anxiety, and trauma in students since the start of the pandemic (National Center for Education Statistics, NCES).
Amid these increases, only about half of all schools said they were able to effectively provide much-needed mental health services mostly due to either insufficient staffing or insufficient funding. As back-to-school season approaches, what are ways that school systems can address the dire need for student mental health care?
School systems in Florida are at the forefront when it comes to ensuring students have access to mental health care. Many Florida counties have made a significant investment in making virtual care accessible, enabling students to meet with a therapist virtually. For many teenagers, sitting in a therapist’s is not particularly enticing. However, talking to a therapist online may sound more comfortable. Flexibility is key – giving access to both virtual and in-person care - and many times the environment and the student themselves will dictate what works best.
Virtual care also enables families to remain involved in the support process, whether that means attending a virtual visit with a child or signing off on a visit with a virtual provider. Working parents often find it hard to attend in-person therapist visits with their children. When caregivers cannot take their children to psychiatrists due to work, it further extends the time for pediatric patients to get much-needed help.
Schools must leverage telehealth solutions that are accessible to most students and families. A device-agnostic platform enables access via mobile phones, laptops, computers, tablets, and more. Additionally, in areas with poor internet connectivity, schools can establish centralized kiosks from which students can participate in virtual visits.
First Lady Casey DeSantis’ Hope for Healing Initiative, launched in 2019, proved these access points were successful, enabling real-time care to be available for more than 35,000 students across the Panhandle.
Today, many students and their families across the state now have access to these valuable virtual resources and an expanded network of licensed care.
The right virtual solution can support referral and case management, modernizing how a student’s treatment process is tracked and recorded. Follow-up sessions and ongoing treatment rates are improved as therapists and school counselors leverage the same digital portal to communicate when students are getting help and when they are not. They can share updates with the parents as well if an intervention is needed.
Looking ahead, schools must be open to embracing new technology to support students and faculty. The public and private sectors must continue to prioritize innovation and reduce barriers to mental health care for our next generation.
We need to invest and build up a care system that provides support for students and their families. As this priority is made, it is my hope that lives will be changed, and in some cases, saved.
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