Hillsborough County Public Schools Launches Free Virtual Mental Health Service for Students as Demand Grows

HILLSBORO COUNTY, Florida. Serious mental stress is a fact of life for many people who grow up in today’s society.

“When I was in kindergarten in Hillsborough County, a lot of my friends were struggling with their mental health, including me,” said Idaniya Rodriguez.

The high school student said that anxiety about bullying and social media can seem overwhelming for a young person.

“There is constant online pressure and social media definitely takes a toll on many students, especially those who are prone to cyberbullying or bullying at school,” Rodriguez said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in 2020, approximately 4.1 million adolescents in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode.

Hillsborough County Public Schools is exploring ways to improve support for vulnerable children and teens.

“We know the importance of mental health services and the needs of our students and their families. This partnership with Hazel Health really takes us to the next level of caring for our students,” said Michael Kelleher, Head of Clinical Care at Hillsborough County Public Schools.

The district announced Thursday that it will provide free virtual home and school mental health services for all grades K-12. After obtaining parental consent, Hazel Health will connect the student with a licensed therapist for virtual counseling sessions.

School leaders said this could greatly help on-campus counselors cope with the growing volume of cases.

“Given the growing demands and the growing volume of mental health needs among our students, it may be difficult for our mental health staff to address all of these needs alone,” said school psychologist Melissa McGuire.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated teen depression, anxiety and mental health issues. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more than one in three high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic.

“The bilingual telehealth option will meet the needs of students who may not have a bilingual physician on campus. So that will be a really big advantage in addition to the resources we already have here in Hillsborough for our students,” McGuire said.

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