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Fairfax County Public Schools paving the way in Virginia with free mental health services

Fairfax County Public Schools (7News)
Fairfax County Public Schools (7News)
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Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is facing rising mental health challenges among high schoolers according to the results of a winter 2021 youth survey study.

The school district rolled out a big effort in April to help schools treat the mental health needs of students at no cost.

Students at FCPS are sounding the alarm after a survey showed 38% of students who participated reported feeling sad and hopeless – the highest report in a decade.

“The concerns related to mental health challenges have been on the rise prior to the pandemic," said Bethany Demers, Mental Wellness Specialist. "I think it’s concerning."

The good news is that the statistics are below the nationwide average.

READ MORE: FCPS high school students offered no-cost teletherapy sessions

However, now the district is now set out to tackle the issue head on in the first of its kind program by offering free mental health services to every high school student in FCPS.

“Even prior to the pandemic, mental health challenges in youth were on the rise," Demers said. "So this is not a new concern but it has highlighted that we need to do more."

FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid said many students have anxiety and feel pressure to be successful.

“I also have to say that student feel anxiety from school violence issues that we have seen played across the country," Reid said. "It creates a mental health concern and it's really important for students to show up their authentic self and feel safe emotionally."

READ MORE: 'These numbers are alarming': Survey shows pandemic impact on the mental health of youth

FCPS partnered with Hazel Health to help eliminate barriers to quality mental health care services for all high school students, at no cost to families.

“We are seeing that this is going to be a way to provide support to more families," Demers said. "It does reduce access barriers include stigma but also logistics and it’s ok to ask for help and it’s ok to not be ok.”

The partnership with hazel health will cost the district $686,250 over nine months, which is more than $500,000 allocated toward the mental health budget.

Reid said many students have already signed up for telehealth services.

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Hazel Health has a history of being successful with other school districts across the nation including Prince George's County in Maryland.

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