The Governor of Florida recently announced funding to support telehealth care support for behavioral counseling for students in need of mental health care, thereby expanding the availability of mental health services to students in Florida. This is a serious expansion of mental health care services in the State of Florida, and a drastic improvement to the level of mental health services available to public school students throughout the state.

Mental health care services can support students in schools by:

  • Improving student and teacher relationships
  • Reducing violent tendencies among students
  • Allow students to cope with past trauma, including trauma from environmental concerns, like hurricane damage
  • Increase student coping mechanisms in the face of high-stress testing, and thereby improve student test performance

The contemporary rise of violence in schools has made the availability of mental health counseling to primary and secondary students paramount. While in an ideal world, school may be looked at as an opportunity for equal playing fields and escape from stressors at home, more often than not school is actually the source of anxiety for many adolescents. Increased focus on test performance, academic and social demands within the classroom, and traditional adolescent behavior all contribute to the rise of stress and anxiety among middle and high school students. Unfortunately, tight budgets across school districts has meant an increasing movement away from student support services, like mental health care. This care is increasingly being placed on the onus of the teacher, but with rising class sizes and heightened demands for improved test scores, many teachers will overlook clues that a student is in need of mental health support due to the constant demand for their attention in other directions. This equation is dangerous for students. It creates an environment in which a student who desperately needs mental health support is unable to access said support, and therefore may in-turn increase their likelihood of engaging in a violent act, and then in turn creates an atmosphere where students are in fear of a violent act occurring, and there being no mental health support in place to calm those anxieties, contributing to an environment of tension, stress, and unknown threats.

The newly created policy in Florida aims to put an end to many of these concerns regarding the lack of support available for secondary students throughout the state, but does so in a way that puts much less of a strain on already tight budgets.

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Teletherapy is a type of mental health counseling in which the client and the therapist are not in the same room with one another, but instead communicate via the telephone. This is a growing form of therapy that is becoming popular in private circles as well, as the ease of being able to utilize the cell phone to contact a therapist means avoiding the need to make an appointment, traveling to the therapeutic center, and improved opportunity for privacy for those who relied on public transportation or support from friends and family to attend counseling sessions.

This type of mental health counseling provides additional opportunities for mental health support across schools in Florida, including to the rural communities where bringing a mental health counselor into the building was even more difficult based on the limited resources available within the community. By creating a telemental health network within the schools, this makes it possible for students to have access to quality mental health support anywhere and at any time that they are able to connect to the internet. This program will therefore minimize the issue of students not having access to mental health care, and will provide a support network to teachers and school administrators who need the support of a mental health professional to address the underlying needs of students who are coping with past-trauma, heightened stress, and violent tendencies.While violence in schools is a national issue that has brought the need for mental health care services within schools to the forefront of the conversation, this actually isn’t the guiding concern behind Governor DeSantis’ decision to bring telemental health counseling to schools in Florida. The State of Florida is forced to cope with drastic damage from hurricane’s year after year, and this puts a great deal of stress on students who lose their homes, their friends, and their classrooms all in the span of a few short days. The expansion of the telemental health counseling system is designed to make access to mental health care easier for the more than 35,000 students in the public school system providing on-demand virtual counseling to any student who may benefit from the service. The program in Florida means a serious improvement in the availability of mental health services, and will ideally provide an improvement in student coping skills following traumatic events, like hurricanes, as well as with the regular stressors of adolesence and secondary schooling.

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