Help is on the way for Pasco students struggling to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic.
Starting this week, Pasco students will have access to free virtual mental health services and therapies thanks to a new partnership between the school district and a San Francisco-based telehealth company.
The partnership means that the 17,600 students of the Pasco School District will be able to connect online with a licensed therapist or mental health counselor – at home and at school – for “short-term evidence-based advice” , a district press release said.
“Providing mental health support to all of our students is an important goal for us, knowing that student learning success is tied to mental and emotional well-being,” said Mira Gobel, Deputy Superintendent of Schools and Pasco’s emotional learning. “Our partnership with Hazel Health is paving the way for easier access to mental health support.”
Pasco is the only neighborhood in the region to offer such a program.
Robyn Chastain of the Kennewick School District said they have hired therapists in all of their high schools this year, providing free services to students, and are working to expand the program to colleges.
The Richland School District has also mental health resources available to students. Parents and the district are also launching a program in May to train families on how to talk with their children on topics such as depression and anxiety.
Youth mental health has been in steady decline over the past few decades. COVID-19 and school closures have added to an already heavy burden.
The number of teenagers reporting having had a major depressive episode in the past year jumped about 60% between 2007 and 2017, from 2 million to 3.2 million, according to Pew Research.
And in December, the American surgeon general called for a “rapid and coordinated responseto mental health issues resulting from social distancing measures.
Through its partnership with Hazel Health, Pasco officials hope to tackle what they say is a “sharp rise in mental health issues among young people.”
“The grief, anxiety and depression students have experienced due to the pandemic has impacted students’ well-being and performance in the classroom,” Gobel said.
Hazel Health has already entered into contracts with other school districts to serve nearly two million students across the country, according to the press release.
Students who are referred by their parents or staff will complete a behavioral health screening and undergo an admissions appointment in less than a week.
The service has already been able to help students resolve and overcome anxiety, depression, adjustment disorders, relationship issues, stress and bullying.
The district works closely with students on the care of their child. Long-term mental health care may also be considered.
This story was originally published May 2, 2022 5:00 a.m.