Telehealth gives greater access to behavioral care for students

When kids are in crisis – or just need someone to talk to about their mental health – it can be challenging to find help. Schools are only able to do so much. There’s an ongoing shortage of mental health providers, and factors like time and transportation can add difficulty.

The need is great across the country, including in states like Iowa. In recent years, there have been significant increases in certain mental health disorders in youth, including depression and suicidal ideation. In fact, death by suicide is the second largest cause of death among Iowans ages 5-24. Iowa also has the lowest amount of psychiatric beds in the nation — failing to meet the minimum standard. 

With this in mind, UnitedHealthcare Community & State of Iowa has announced a $1.5 million investment in school-based telehealth to expand access to mental health care for K-12 students throughout the state.

This funding will give Hazel Health, a telehealth provider that focuses on school-based care, the needed resources to partner with school systems and scale the infrastructure to enable Hazel Health to deliver high-quality mental health services in partnership with school districts where students spend most of their day — both at school and at home.

Hazel Health’s teletherapy program is designed to provide students with timely access to the care they need to develop the skills and strategies to overcome challenges like anxiety, depression, bullying, stress at home, and academic pressure. The goal is to deliver clinical improvement through a personalized program to meet their unique needs. The outcome is that students feel better and are present and ready to engage in learning opportunities. Visits with a locally licensed, on-staff mental health professional typically last about an hour.

The investment will impact approximately 100,000 students in historically underserved and rural communities, representing nearly 21% of all K-12 students in Iowa.

Once the infrastructure — technology and training — is in place, trained staff, like school counselors, can refer students for care. Once the referral is made, Hazel Health will contact the family directly to assess if the program makes sense for their student and schedule an assessment. Families enrolled in school districts Hazel Health partners with can also refer their students for care directly. Hazel’s therapists create personalized, evidence-based, age-appropriate programs for each student they serve in grades K through 12. Hazel has therapists who speak English, Spanish, and over 29 other languages—so families and students can talk to their therapist in their home language.

In terms of outcomes, a recent third-party study has shown that Hazel Health’s teletherapy program has reduced anxiety and depression symptoms by 75% with their treatment.

"Often, challenges like anxiety keep students out of class, and even if they are physically present but dealing with heightened stress, they are not going to be able to reach their full potential,” said Paris Corredera Carrol, Vice President of Mental Health Clinical Services for Hazel Health. “Yes, this partnership allows 100,000 students to access incredible care, but as a therapist, I think about the individual student's stories and how this can represent a new chapter for them. And I can’t overstate how profound that is."

With Hazel Health, students in Iowa — on a large scale — not only receive the mental health assistance they need, but also find culturally competent support that can help them thrive both in school and at home.  

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