Kettering, Miamisburg among schools offering no-wait mental health service

New telehealth partnership expands mental health care access to 15,000 local students; more school districts may be added next year

Students in four Montgomery County school districts now have access to no-waitlist mental health services online through a partnership with the Montgomery County Educational Service Center and Cartwheel, a telehealth mental health provider to schools.

The ESC says the program is a way to remove barriers to students experiencing problems like depression and anxiety at low or no-cost to their families, at a time when schools have seen an increase in the number of students acting out in classrooms or reporting feeling sad, stressed or anxious for long periods of time.

About 15,000 students in Kettering, Miamisburg, Brookville and Jefferson Twp. schools have access to online therapy, the Montgomery County ESC said. In its first few weeks, more than 50 students have been referred for services and offered appointments without a waitlist, according to the ESC.

Services are free for students on Mediaid and uninsured students. Private insurance is also accepted.

Sessions are held via a secure telehealth platform during the day, evenings, weekends, school breaks, and through the summer. Students can access the telehealth services on personal devices or on school devices during school hours. Services are available in other languages.

Amy Anyanwu, assistant superintendent at the Montgomery County Educational Service Center, noted that students’ mental health was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health has continued to be a problem for many students.

Anyanwu said local health partners are doing their best, but they are outnumbered. The additional partnership will give more students help when they need it, she said.

“Long waitlists for care have impacted students, families, and school staff,” Anyanwu said. “It’s crucial to recognize that students grappling with deep sadness or anxiety shouldn’t be turned away or endure a four to six-month wait to see a therapist.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2021, more than a third of high school students reported that they had experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% said they persistently felt sad or hopeless during 2021. Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness is a marker that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental health disorders like depression.

Addressing mental health problems can alleviate chronic absenteeism. In the 2022-23 school year, 26.8% of students in Ohio were chronically absent, up from 16.7% in the 2018-19 school year.

Cartwheel works with each school to customize a referral process that fits into their current system of mental health support, the ESC said.

Once a referral is made, Cartwheel contacts the family within two days to schedule a one-hour virtual intake assessment with a licensed therapist.

After the first session, students can join ongoing weekly therapy sessions for up to six months.

“Our parents were consistently telling us that mental health support in our area was difficult to navigate and took an inordinate amount of time to access,” said Kathleen Lucas, director of student services at Miamisburg City Schools. “Because of the long wait time, students were not getting the help they needed.”

She said Cartwheel has helped to fill that gap.

The Montgomery County ESC said they have space to add more Montgomery County schools to the program for next school year.

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