Talkspace provides free access to online therapy for students and staff

September 8, 2021 — by Victoria Hu and Brian Sheen
Students and staff can sign up for Talkspace and gain access to licensed therapists in about three minutes.

In the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) administered last December, about 33 percent of Saratoga High School students reported feeling chronically sad or hopeless to the point of stopping their normal activities, while 13 percent said they had seriously considered attempting suicide. 

As a way to combat the concerning proportion of students struggling with their mental health, the district contracted with Talkspace starting this year to provide all students with free online access to a licensed therapist. In addition, staff and their dependents ages 13 and up can use the service, which includes unlimited text, audio and video messaging in addition to one 30-minute live video session per month with a therapist. 

According to Heath Rocha, the district’s head of student services, the use of Talkspace is a response to results of the California Healthy Kids Survey as well as the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) survey administered last March, where about 15 percent of students said that they would not utilize on campus CASSY services out of fear of reactions from parents and peers. 

Talkspace is fully encrypted and compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which establishes national standards to safeguard sensitive patient information. Rocha said Talkspace may offer a more confidential and secure alternative to CASSY, since district staff are not involved in Talkspace operations and will not know who uses Talkspace or for what reasons. 

Another potential benefit, Rocha said, is that Talkspace services are more flexible, with licensed therapists available up to five days a week and accessible from any location with an internet connection. CASSY, on the other hand, is in person with sessions offered once a week. 

Sophomore Esabella Fung thinks Talkspace has potential to help students. “CASSY is a great place to get resources if the situation is temporary, but Talkspace would be a better measure for more deeply rooted issues,” she said. “It can be accessed more conveniently.”

Other students weren’t as sure about the effectiveness of the district’s Talkspace plan.

I think programs like Talkspace actually increase the stigma behind mental health, because the district thinks they can just fix a student’s mental health issues with an hour of screen time with a therapist per month,” said junior Adam Xu. “In reality, the reason why so many people here suffer from burnout and anxiety is the insane academic pressure, which the district is not doing much to abate.”

To access the district’s plan, users can go to the Talkspace website and sign up. There they will be prompted to enter their employer and personal information. Students should enter “LGSUHSDstudents” under employer information while staff and their dependents should enter “LGSUHSDemployees.”

After signing up, users will answer a brief set of questions about their preferences and needs, which are then used to suggest therapists. Talkspace users are provided with information such as a therapist’s experience, state and license, area or areas of expertise, clinical approach and user reviews with which to make their decision. All Talkspace therapists have been accredited by the National Committee for Quality Assurance and average seven to ten years in experience providing therapy. 

Once the user chooses a therapist, they may then communicate with the therapist to work out a schedule and begin therapy. Users may also choose to switch to a different therapist at any time.

Support in creating a Talkspace account can be found at the school’s Wellness Center. An FAQ is also available on the Talkspace website. 

“I believe that every high school in the country is experiencing significant increases in mental health challenges among its students. Saratoga High is no different,” Rocha said. “Our hope is that Talkspace provides an alternative with greater anonymity and access to a licensed therapist 5 days a week, as opposed to having to wait for a weekly in-person session with CASSY.”

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