HomeOpinionWe all lose if we take away mental health resources from students

We all lose if we take away mental health resources from students

By Bob McCullough

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Students and families in Northeast Philadelphia are still reeling from a horrific shooting on March 6, when eight teenagers were shot at a bus stop. The violence struck after another deadly shooting in the area just two days earlier, bringing the total of teenagers shot in less than a week to 11. Parents, community leaders and students are calling for action to address the tragic violence and bring peace to the victims and their families.

But as these senseless shootings continue to claim more and more victims with each passing day, their classmates are left to process complex trauma and other difficult emotions associated with the onslaught of painful news, grief and confusion over how this has become their daily reality.

Impacted schools Northeast High School and Crossan School, in the School District of Philadelphia, have made several resources available for its students, including grief and crisis counselors and digital mental health tools. They use a digital platform called Kooth, and I’m proud to work for this company. I spent decades as a crisis response counselor, including during the aftermath of 9/11, so I have first-hand experience working with young people in similar situations as what the students in Philadelphia are now facing.

Kooth is a mental health and well-being platform that pairs chat-based counseling with self-directed tools like journaling to help young people identify and manage challenges from anxiety and loneliness to bullying through culturally relevant, evidence-informed tools and techniques. Worldwide, 17 million people have access to Kooth, receiving early support to improve health and wellness outcomes, potentially staving off future (often more costly) treatment needs.

Early support is critical as 20 million young people in the U.S. have a mental health condition. Still, only 20% of those receive care, exacerbated by skyrocketing costs and a historic clinician shortage, making accessible digital solutions even more critical.

In Pennsylvania, more than 100,000 students have access to Kooth through a partnership with our state’s school districts. There’s a movement in the General Assembly to cut future funding for Kooth, and we need to examine what’s at stake if we don’t give students these critical resources.

Digital mental health tools offer students access to mental health and wellness resources (and, in Kooth’s case, they are completely free, regardless of income or insurance). Following a traumatic event like a shooting, or worse – repeated shootings in one’s neighborhood – immediate access to free support is vital. With guidance and practice, teens and young people develop healthy coping skills and build resilience. With Kooth, in particular, students have access to clinically safeguarded content from their peers so they can feel a sense of community and benefit from the shared experiences of others.

After just one year, results demonstrate the impact of reaching students in Pennsylvania:

• 21% of students presented with a severe level of psychological distress, 24% presented with self-harm issues and 59% presented with anxiety/stress

• Though 65% of students feel like they need professional support, 63% do not feel comfortable speaking to friends or family about their mental well-being

• 86% of students found Kooth’s content helpful

When 11 of their classmates and friends were shot in a matter of days, students were confused and looking for answers. They were looking for somewhere to be heard and share feelings and experiences. Without a safe space, they’ll seek out answers and comfort elsewhere. They will Google it anyway, so don’t we want to provide them with a better, safer solution?

We owe it to our students to provide a space where they can connect with experienced, qualified professionals for support, rather than relying on YouTube, Reddit or Google for answers. The School District of Philadelphia has made significant efforts to ensure these students have access to mental health support in the manner that best suits their needs.

It would be one more tragedy for these students if Harrisburg took that away. ••

Bob McCullough is VP of Clinical Strategy, Kooth Digital Health

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