New Bill Aims to Promote School-Based Telemental Health Services

US Representatives Abigail Spanberger and Brian Fitzpatrick introduced bipartisan legislation to assist school districts in funding telemental health services.

By Mark Melchionna

March 27, 2023 – Introduced by US Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), the Connecting Students with Mental Health Services Act would assist school districts in funding telemental health services, thereby improving access to care.

Mental health struggles are common among high school students. In 2021, 42 percent of students reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. Further, according to a 2022 survey from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that gathered information on student mental health in Virginia, almost two-thirds of high school students indicated feelings related to nervousness or anxiety.

The survey also included responses from school divisions, with half indicating a lack of confidence regarding their ability to add a mental health workforce for the current school year.

Dig Deeper

Through the Connecting Students with Mental Health Services Act, school districts would receive assistance in funding telehealth programs to provide mental health services. The legislation would create a federal grant program under the US Department of Education and the US Department of Health and Human Services to provide the funding.

With this funding, school districts could establish a private setting where students could communicate with behavioral health professionals. They could also pay staff and obtain or enhance the technology needed for telemental healthcare.

This grant program will prioritize expanding care access for students in rural and low-income school districts, primarily because they are more likely to lack access to mental healthcare.

“As children and teenagers across our Commonwealth and our country report more frequent feelings of anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness, we must continue to find ways to connect our future generation with professional mental health resources,” said Spanberger in a press release. “School districts are already working to fill the gap for their students — but many are stretched thin by finite resources. Our bipartisan Connecting Students with Mental Health Services Act would live up to its name by assisting educators, parents, and administrators in meeting the demonstrated need in their schools, and I’m grateful to my colleague Congressman Fitzpatrick for recognizing the benefit this program would provide to students.”

Several stakeholders endorsed the legislation, including parents throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS), and the Virginia Education Association.

“We are acutely aware of the interconnected nature of the academic, physical, mental, social, and emotional development of students, their families, and communities,” said James J. Fedderman, PhD, president of the Virginia Education Association, in the press release. “Students with untreated medical concerns are less likely to benefit from the learning and enrichment opportunities available to them in school. This legislation will provide much-needed resources to schools in the form of grants to support the mental and behavioral health of students in elementary schools and secondary schools, especially those students who reside in rural areas or lack access to mental and behavioral health services.” 

As the benefits surrounding the use of telehealth to treat medical conditions become increasingly apparent, lawmakers are exploring legislation supporting its growth.

For example, in February, six US House representatives announced the introduction of the Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act, which aims to provide American workers with access to employer-sponsored telehealth benefits.

Although in-person healthcare has resumed, telehealth has remained popular. A 2022 survey showed that 82 percent of US adults with employer-provided healthcare coverage believe that the federal government should extend telehealth flexibilities.

Through the Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act, employers could offer workers standalone telehealth benefits, which would operate similarly to dental and vision benefits.