1.3 million Los Angeles students could soon be able to access free teletherapy – The 74

Get stories like these straight to your inbox. Sign up for newsletter 74

With mental health issues on the rise, a new partnership in Los Angeles County schools is ready to offer authoritative counseling to its more than one million K-12 students.

The 80 districts within the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Office of Education will have the authority to opt out of services from Hazel Health, a telehealth provider that has partnered with districts across the country to connect families with care. authorized quickly and free of charge.

Their virtual therapy model removes some key barriers to accessing care from the equation, including insurance coverage, provider shortages or waiting lists, and transportation. Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest district in the country, and Compton Unified have already signed up.

In California, nearly 70% of youth who experienced a major depressive episode did not receive any treatment, which is 10% above the national average.

However, the new partnership is not designed to support students in the long term.

“Usually, each student can expect one intake visit plus six weeks to two months of weekly sessions before being released from the Hazel program,” a Hazel Health spokesperson told The 74 via email. “The program is short-term – if your child needs long-term mental health support, we will help identify and connect them with options in their community.”

The $24 million partnership with LA Care Health Plan, Health Net and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health is part of the state’s urgent push to address the youth mental health crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic and the social networks. Additionally, racial unrest and discrimination is particularly affecting students of color, who make up 86% of Los Angeles County schools.

Los Angeles Unified has not yet finalized its implementation plan. It can take up to 12 weeks before the sessions begin, according to a spokesperson for the county office of education.

In December, some Compton Unified students began accessing in-home services, and as of last week, two schools in the district began offering on-site telehealth visits. By March, the district plans to offer space for student use at each campus.

Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, and suicide is now the second leading cause of death among children. Other school districts that have already partnered with Hazel include Clark County, the largest in Nevada, and Duval County Public Schools in Florida.

While a similar teletherapy offering in Colorado allows youth ages 12 and older to enroll confidentially and meet with therapists on their own, the Los Angeles partnership with Hazel will require students to be referred by a parent, guardian or a member of the school staff.

A wellness room at a Compton high school where therapy sessions can be held (Courtesy of LACOE)

More than half of Hazel Health’s mental health providers are people of color and more than 40% are bilingual. When necessary, clinicians use Language Line to facilitate sessions in the students’ preferred language.

“Hazel Health aligns the hiring of therapists with the demographics of its partner districts,” said Van Nguyen, Public Information Officer for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

The company launched its first mental health tours in fall 2021, covering coping mechanisms and tools for general anxiety disorder, depression, academic stress, and bullying. Currently, about 22 clinical mental health positions are open.

“Hazel’s hiring practices involve seeking trauma-trained physicians with extensive experience with children and adolescents, as well as specific passion areas and specialties (such as LGBTQ). Getting the mix right is critical,” Drew Mathias, vice president of marketing, told The 74.

His doctors most often use cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and dialectical behavior therapy approaches.

Founded in 2015 by a pediatric ER physician, K-12 educator, and former Apple software engineer, Hazel Health provides physical and mental health care visits to children in more than 3,000 public schools.

Get stories like these straight to your inbox. Sign up for newsletter 74