Roanoke City Schools provide free mental health services for students

Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 10:05 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Students in the Star City are able to access free mental health resources through Roanoke City Public Schools after a new initiative started November 6. Leaders are hoping the move will increase accessibility and reduce the mental health stigma.

A Roanoke City Public Schools Youth Risk Behavior Survey found the number of students struggling with anxiety and depression had grown significantly since the pandemic. As the number of kids battling mental health issues increases – so does the need for help.

“Whether or not a child has trauma, as a result of seeing some type of violence, gun violence, domestic violence, or has experienced other kinds of traumas, a death of a loved one, or any type of loss, that these services are so critical for them,” said Superintendent Verletta White.

White says the 2022-2023 Student Advisory Council, made up of middle and high school students, asked her to increase the schools’ support- so White answered. The district is partnering with Hazel Health, a San Francisco-based company that provides telehealth assistance to schools around the country. The organization says over 60% of it’s providers identify as a person of color and over 40% are bilingual.

“Once the student is matched with the therapist and connected with the therapist, they use evidence-based practices to develop a treatment plan to identify the core issues that are driving the student’s concerns. And then to work through that treatment plan and come to a successful resolution of their symptoms,” explained Hazel Health Chief Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. “The quicker we can get them back to the classroom, the better so that they can be present so that they can learn and achieve and be academically successful.”

Students can self-enroll or be referred by staff, but parents must approve before they become eligible. The sessions are free and available in multiple languages. The goal is to make sure all students have access to a trained professional.

“When our students feel emotionally, well, socially, well, psychologically, well, they’re more likely to do better in school, they’re more likely to come to school, and they’re more likely to thrive,” explained White.

White says she hopes making these resources available will help reduce the mental health stigma.

“At some point in our lives, most of us need someone else... make sure that our students realize that asking for help is okay,” added White. “We want our students to be able to ask for help when they need it.”

The school system says the program is already a success, with 18 students signed up from 12 schools.

“Access to quality health care is essential for student success inside and outside the classroom. We are thrilled to launch this partnership with Roanoke City Public Schools to ensure every student can access the care and support they need when they need it. This collaboration underscores our shared dedication with RCPS to nurturing the holistic development of each student, ultimately contributing to a healthier school community, both physically and emotionally,” added Gayles.

Families interested in learning more can click here.