Student Well-Being

As Student Mental Health Concerns Rise, States Turn to Telehealth

By Lauraine Langreo — October 30, 2022 4 min read
Image of a stethoscope and a mobile phone.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Most, if not all, of the research about how students are faring mentally and emotionally since the coronavirus pandemic began has shown that they are not doing well.

Students have said that depression, stress, and anxiety are the biggest barriers to their learning. Teachers have also noted that dealing with student behavioral and mental health issues has been the biggest barrier to addressing unfinished learning.

With such heightened concern over students’ mental health, some states and school districts are turning to telehealth providers to ensure that all students have access to the health care services they might need in order to thrive academically, mentally, and socially.

The Hawaii State Department of Education earlier this month announced a partnership with telehealth provider Hazel Health to expand access to mental health services for K-12 students.

“The pandemic has had unprecedented and far-reaching impacts on our K-12 learning, further exasperating the preexisting achievement gaps, deepening divides in educational opportunities, and creating emotional and mental health concerns for students and staff,” spokesperson Nanea Kalani said in a statement to Education Week.

Other states are also implementing telehealth this school year. For example, in Mississippi, the state department of education is partnering with the University of Mississippi Medical Center to provide telehealth services to all K-12 schools.

Some states were ahead of the curve. Texas, for instance, has had statewide telehealth services in schools since 2019, when the state legislature passed a bill that created the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium.

Reaching students in ‘mental health provider deserts’

Providing telehealth services in school ensures that every student has access to health care no matter where they live, according to experts who spoke to Education Week.

“One of the issues that we run into is that there may not be community resources close by that would be available for students and parents to address these longer term issues,” said Eric Sparks, the deputy executive director of the American School Counselor Association. “So telehealth could be a really good way to try to bridge that gap so that students are able to receive longer term support for mental health issues.”

In Mississippi, there are many areas that are considered “mental health provider deserts,” said Tearsanee Davis, the director of clinical programs and strategy for University of Mississippi Medical Center’s telehealth department.

Representatives for the education departments in Hawaii and Texas also mentioned that it’s challenging to match students with health care providers in remote areas.

When a student needs anything beyond what a school nurse or counselor can provide, those staff members will then set up a telehealth appointment after the parents have given permission. If a student needs long-term support, they’ll be referred to their primary care physician if they have one or the closest provider in their community.

Providing telehealth services in schools could also generate lower student absentee rates, experts said.

“The student doesn’t necessarily miss a day of school,” unless they have the flu or COVID or other communicable illnesses, said Scott Clements, state director of healthy schools and child nutrition in Mississippi’s education agency. “There are a lot of small things that can be taken care of during the telehealth visit. They miss a few minutes of class rather than missing a day.”

It’s also convenient for parents who won’t have to leave work to bring their child to urgent care if it can be taken care of during a telehealth visit at school, Clements said.

Telehealth services could also help in schools that don’t have staff available to deal with students’ mental or behavioral problems. Education Week has previously reported that school counselors and psychologists remain scarce even as needs rise.

But telehealth providers who spoke with Education Week said that these programs shouldn’t replace school-based behavioral health staff. The programs should show how necessary school-based health professionals are, Davis said.

“The school nurse is in the community. They already have a relationship with the parents. They already have a relationship with the students,” she said.

Funding beyond COVID dollars

The programs in Hawaii and Mississippi are funded by federal COVID relief funds, so it’s not yet clear what will happen after funding runs out in 2024.

Officials from both states are optimistic that they’ll be able to continue to provide the services as long as they are needed.

Hawaii has a reduced-cost agreement with Hazel Health after the initial two years and the state Health department plans to cover qualifying visits, Kalani said. Hawaii is also increasing its capacity to support students by hiring and retaining school-based mental health providers.

Kyle Brewer, the telehealth administrator for the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said the COVID relief money is “a jumping-off point for care in schools in the future.”

“This is helping us to get the technology out there, get the right people in place, get the nurses trained,” Brewer said. “As we get this thing up and running, we really have to start pushing for the sustainability of this. We want to increase that community awareness and show the value of this program to the students, to the schools, to insurance companies, to the state, to parents, to everyone.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being The Influential Allies These Schools Are Enlisting to Boost Attendance
A newly formed group of school districts will rely on the help of their communities to craft absence-fighting strategies.
4 min read
Back of a teen girl walking home from school while wearing a backpack with one strap hanging off her shoulder.
Student Well-Being Teens Are Looking for Mental Health Support Online. What That Means for Schools
Young people are turning to websites, social media, and apps for mental health support.
4 min read
Hand holding a mobile phone with an app asking "What is Your Mood Today? Measure Your Mental State" with a blue "Let's Explore" button
Student Well-Being Q&A How to Address Parents' Concerns That SEL Goes Against Their Values
A Texas instructional coach shares insights she has learned from talking with hesitant parents.
3 min read
Illustration concept of emotional intelligence, showing a woman balancing emotion control using her hand to balance smile and sad face icons.
Student Well-Being Pause Before You Post: A Social Media Guide for Educators in Tense Political Times
5 tips for educators and their students to avoid making harmful or false statements online that they later regret.
6 min read
Tight crop of a man's hands using a mobile phone with the popup box that reads "Delete post, Are you sure you want to delete this post? Cancel or Delete"
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Getty