The pandemic took a toll on morale from everyone with most people feeling the adverse effects of despair these past three years. Mental health issues have also increased, yet awareness is now a priority as well. Those who used to feel stigma for seeking help are doing so more openly knowing that they are not alone and that the public just went through and survived a global pandemic together. In this conversation of mental health awareness, however, children should also be prioritized. Many children were sent home to complete schooling online in isolated environments and are now having trouble recovering from missing out on key formative years that should have occurred in person. To help combat these bad feelings children may be facing, LAUSD recently announced that it will provide free online therapy through Hazel Health to all K-12 students wishing to participate in the service — a win for the youth who should learn that there is no shame in seeking out help.
While there are large stigmas surrounding mental health and the use of therapy that range from generational differences to cultural expectations, these services are necessary to help people and society heal together and progress. For these reasons, many people who need therapy or services do not receive the treatment they need. According to a new research letter in JAMA Pediatrics, an estimated 16.5 percent of children in the United States — about 7.7 million kids — have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but about half don’t receive the help they need. This discrepancy leads to children who become isolated and unmotivated leading them to potentially drop out of school and in worse cases harm themselves or others. By learning about mental health diseases early on through the use of therapy, children can receive the proper medication needed to continue living their best lives.
Those who have received therapy will have varying stories of success and its benefits, whether the sessions were online or in person, but a key component in receiving a good experience is by having a therapist that the patient connects well with and who understands their cultural and economic background. This connection is necessary so that the therapist can provide the best solutions. LAUSD has stated that Hazel Health will use California-licensed therapists and that roughly 60% of the companies are people of color and some 30% are bilingual. Having therapists that look and sound like the children will hopefully allow them to have a well balanced experience and benefit from therapy at a young age. Through showing children that therapy is okay, they may be able to break generational trauma and feel more comfortable expressing their emotions in healthy ways, something that is needed in the U.S. where acts of gun violence are often used instead.
The ultimate decision on whether this program will work is if the children feel comfortable opening up and using the services. Due to their young age, parents will have to approve sessions and may receive updates from the therapist on how the sessions are going. Trust and open communication between the guardian and child will be necessary in the child feeling like they can ask to participate in therapy and that they are not being betrayed by the therapist. A safe quiet place for the sessions to occur will also be needed, but LAUSD has stated that students will be able to borrow technology and may attend their sessions during school hours.
With this program just being approved, LAUSD is leading the way for school districts unsure of how to expand their mental health programs. Time will tell whether the program is successful and how many of the 1.3 million students in the district actually take advantage of the service. Overall, therapy is typically more beneficial than not and by introducing it at a young age, children will hopefully break the stigmas currently surrounding mental health and its awareness.