In response to the escalating mental health struggles among American youth, at least 16 of the 20 largest U.S. public school districts are now offering online therapy sessions. With a surge in mental health concerns among students, schools are leveraging telehealth therapy services, with contracts in these districts alone exceeding $70 million, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
The growth of teletherapy in schools has spawned a new business sector, attracting venture capital funding for a wave of school teletherapy companies. This development is a direct response to the pressing mental health crisis facing America’s youth, manifesting in issues such as bullying, violence, and online harassment.
For students like Maria Ishoo’s daughter in California and Valerie Aguirre’s daughter in Hawaii, teletherapy has become a lifeline. Facing bullying, isolation, and violence, these students found solace and support through online counseling. The convenience of accessing therapy remotely has proven beneficial, especially for rural schools and lower-income students, making mental health services more accessible.
Despite the positive impact, concerns have been raised about the quality of care offered by rapidly growing tech companies entering the teletherapy space. Experts caution about potential pitfalls, such as the competition between telehealth providers and in-person practitioners for hiring school counselors and psychologists. The qualifications of therapists, their experience with children, and privacy protocols are also points of contention.
One of the leading providers, Hazel Health, based in San Francisco, has rapidly expanded its teletherapy services to over 150 school districts in 15 states, employing more than 300 clinicians. The company has secured multi-million-dollar contracts with major school districts, highlighting the financial potential of addressing the mental health crisis in schools.
While the growth of teletherapy in schools offers a crucial avenue for support, mental health experts emphasize the need for careful consideration of the quality of care, qualifications of therapists, and the broader impact on traditional, in-person mental health services.
As schools grapple with shortages of in-person practitioners, teletherapy emerges as a viable solution to meet the overwhelming demand for mental health support among students. The trend raises questions about the future landscape of mental health services in schools and the balance between online and in-person interventions.