(*This story was updated at 1:22 p.m. on Tuesday, July 4, 2023 to clarify how many Pennsylvania students had access to Kooth’s services if they chose to use them.)
By Chanel Hill
Thousands of students in Pennsylvania have reached out for help to address their mental health during the 2022-2023 school year, according to a new report.
*According to Kooth, a web-based provider of mental health services for school-aged children, 92,184 students had access to their services in Pennsylvania over five months.
Nearly 65% of students felt they needed professional support, but they did not feel comfortable speaking to friends or a family member about their mental well-being.
“I feel like they [family and friends] wouldn’t quite get how I was feeling and why I would be feeling that way,” a student said in the report. “I know they would be able to sympathize, but I don’t want sympathy, I want to be understood.”
Seventy-nine percent of students said their mental health was the main reason they reached out to Kooth. Among other prevalent issues that concerned students, 75% said they were dealing with anxiety, 43% had problems at home, 36% had thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation and 32% of students felt dejected.
The report also stated that one in five students who registered for the platform presented a severe level of psychological distress.
Data from the report was collected from students in Pennsylvania who registered on Kooth between Nov. 7, 2022 through March 31, 2023. The survey was advertised via Kooth and email communications.
Of the users that provided feedback, 93% said they felt heard, understood or respected, 91% found the sessions helpful and 86% would recommend the service to a friend. The report is based on Kooth’s first year of operation in Pennsylvania.
“People with social anxiety or [people who] are ashamed of them being depressed or anxious may have trouble talking to a therapist in real life and having anonymous or just online chats with somebody who can help them get through it, or just being there for them to show someone cares can help wonders,” a student said in the report.
Kooth provides students with confidential access to professional support, self-help content, moderated forums, journaling, goal-setting and therapeutic activities from their smartphones and computers.
The online platform offers three tiers of support for students including self-help, forums and articles and professional counseling. Kooth is available for all district high schoolers at no cost.
Students can also receive professional counseling through asynchronous messaging as well as ongoing live-chat based counseling. All messages will be responded to within 24 hours.
Last June, Kooth was awarded a $3 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to offer its app to any school district in the state. The app is free of charge for school districts, students and their parents.
“The high prevalence of mental health difficulties for young people across the United States and indeed beyond is well documented, and at the same time, access to care for these difficulties can be challenging,” said Bob McCullough, vice president of clinical strategy for Kooth U.S. “While the COVID-19 pandemic not only exacerbated mental health issues, it has also decreased access to care.
“It is clear that many of the difficulties in care access, in particular for mental health and well-being, have been around for some time before the COVID-19 pandemic, including long wait lists with limited appointment availability, geographical clinician shortages, social determinants of care barriers, high entry thresholds, accessibility difficulties, and inflexible approaches that may not match what young people want,” he said.
“At Kooth, we specialize in developing products and services designed with young people, to support young people’s mental health and well-being and that directly address many of the challenges to care access,” he added.
The School District of Philadelphia partnered with Kooth in February. Since then, hundreds of Philadelphia students have accessed the online counseling, used the peer-to-peer support features, shared the digital resources and more.
The district recently unveiled its new summer wellness campaign with Kooth. The campaign encourages students to continue caring for their mental health and well-being throughout the summer months.
Schools earn points for each new individual registration, completed activities and ongoing usage. The school with the most student engagement throughout the summer will receive a visit in the fall from Kooth ambassador and Philadelphia Eagle Lane Johnson.
“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Kooth to provide students with more consistent access to mental health services,” said School District of Philadelphia superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. in a statement.
“Improving and supporting students’ well-being is one of the priority areas of the District’s new five-year strategic plan, Accelerate Philly,” he said. “Collaborative partnerships like this help us provide these opportunities and access for our students.”
Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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