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School-Based Program Brings Mental Health Services to Children in Rural Areas


A program in West Virginia is using an innovative approach to bring much needed mental health services to children in rural communities. In 2016, the West Virginia Children’s Access Network began providing  mental health services in rural schools via telepsychiatry.

Telemedicine, or telepsychiatry specifically, is the process of providing health care from a distance through technology, primarily videoconferencing. Telepsychiatry can involve providing services such as psychiatric evaluations, individual or group therapy and medication management. Providing mental health care remotely  can help make care more convenient, accessible and affordable. 


Extensive research supports the effectiveness of telepsychiatry. It is used in a variety of different settings, including outpatient clinics, correctional facilities, emergency rooms, schools, nursing homes, and military treatment facilities.

The West Virginia program seeks to bring mental health care to rural areas where there is often a high need and limited access to services.

The Appalachian population is challenged by mental health stigma, poverty, lack of access to mental health specialists and geographical isolation. A survey in one West Virginia county found 55 percent of residents traveled more than 60 minutes for health care and 42 percent missed medical appointments because of lack of transportation. Areas of mental health need identified by students and staff include diffusing and treating anger, bullying, truancy, family abuse and violence, self-harm, and substance abuse. 

In West Virginia, a system of school-based health clinics provide a range of health care services, including behavioral health care. The clinics are managed by community health centers and housed within schools. 

The West Virginia Children’s Access Network (WVCAN), with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, set up a multidisciplinary telehealth program at three school-based health clinics. The primary goals were to increase youth access to psychiatric care and reduce wait times. Efforts were also made to reach out and inform school staff, parents and the community about the psychiatry resources. Case managers at the school-based health centers identified children in need and coordinated with parents and providers for the telepsychiatry services.

In addition to individual evaluations and treatment, the telepsychiatry program also provided group therapy services for students. When psychotherapy was recommended for individual children, the case managers helped families with referrals and therapy appointments.

One particular benefit noted by the study authors is that by virtually eliminating wait time for service, the program disrupts the cycle of underuse of psychiatric care when youth fall through the cracks as they wait for service.



Pradhan, T, Six-Workman, EA, Law, KB. An Innovative Approach to care: Integrating mental health services through telemedicine in rural school-based health centers. Psychiatric Services. Published Online Dec 17, 2018.


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