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$285M To Put Mental Health Counselors In Schools

Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the Biden administration has invested $285 million to help schools hire and train more than 14,000 mental health counselors. 

The $285 million is funded by the Safer Communities Act, the bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation signed by President Biden in June 2022. The funding provided is considered to be the largest investment for student mental health. 

Harris also announced that $6 million will be distributed to community violence intervention efforts in schools. 

The Education Department will provide the funds to seven school districts in the U.S. These districts will be part of the Project Prevent grant program, aimed at supporting strategies and helping mitigate and prevent the impact of community violence on students.  

But is the government’s response delayed in solving mental health struggles among students? Is only covering seven districts really enough to help American youth across all school districts? Concerns are rising for the schooling system as violence and bullying increase, impacting students’ mental health nationwide and requiring a proactive response.  

As grade schools witness the devastating effects of school violence and cyberbullying, damaging student’s mental health, they are in need of an immediate solution. School officials were quick to take matters into their own hands and began offering telehealth therapy services to students. 

According to an analysis by The Associated Press, about 16 out of 20 of the largest U.S. public school districts are offering online therapy sessions in hopes of reaching millions of students. These districts have signed provider contracts worth more than $70 million. 

The growth of telehealth services provided and used in response to the mental health crisis in schools is recognized as a success and even created a new booming business for America’s economy. Venture capitalists are now funding school teletherapy companies where the company provides therapists, counselors, and psychologists. However, experts raise concerns regarding the quality of care provided by fast-growing tech companies. 

As schools struggle with the shortages of in-person counselors and therapists, educators claim that teletherapy has been working for several students, and more importantly, it is meeting the mass need, especially for rural and lower-income students. These services have provided easier access to therapy, allowing students to connect with online counselors during school hours or after hours in their homes. 

With the launching of the new teletherapy programs, students are offered weekly sessions where therapists can help provide coping tools and techniques to enable students to manage the challenges of their emotions. 

According to interviews with students and their parents, the teletherapy sessions have helped them deal with struggling emotions stemming from feelings of sadness, loneliness, academic stress, and general anxiety. For the majority of students, the transition back to in-person school after the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult. Friendships were broken, social skills deteriorated, and tempers were easily set off. 

Experts have issued warnings pertaining to alarming rates of youth depression, anxiety, and suicide. Because of the warnings, school districts are signing contracts with private companies. Other districts are working along with local healthcare providers, nonprofits, or state programs. 

Mental health experts are happy to offer extra help but remain cautious of potential pitfalls. The tech therapy element has made it difficult for school counselors and psychologists to be hired because of the competition with telehealth providers. 

Kevin Dahill-Fuchel, executive director of Counseling in Schools, expresses how the rapid growth of tech companies raises questions regarding the qualifications of therapists, their experience with children, and privacy protocols. 

San Francisco-based Hazel Health stands as one of the biggest providers. It originally started with telemedicine services in school in 2016 and expanded to mental health in May 2021. The company employs over 300 clinicians providing teletherapy in over 150 school districts in 15 states. 

Because of the rapid growth, Hazel has signed a $24 million contract with Los Angeles County, offering its teletherapy services to 1.3 million students for two years. Other clients include Hawaii, Clark County schools in Las Vegas, Miami-Dade County, and Harris County schools in Houston. 

Despite big money contracts in several counties, Dahill-Fuchel expresses that his main concern is ensuring child welfare. 

It seems as if the schools did not wait for the government to get involved, as they did not have time to wait to deal with the mental health crisis in schools. From their immediate call to action, schools have been able to implement teletherapy services in more than just seven counties nationwide, reaching many different types of students from different social classes across America.