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Elevating Youth Voices to Evolve Hazel HEART™

In partnership with Hazel Health

Hazel + Hopelab: An investment and ongoing relationship to help meet the mental health needs of young people

Hazel sees how schools can be a gateway for health and wellness access for all students, and recently launched a mental health program called Hazel HEART™—Hazel’s Early Assessment, Response, and Treatment protocol. Hazel HEART™ is a short-term bridge program, where students in need of mental health services have access to teletherapy with licensed clinicians through a school portal.

Hazel’s school-based care model has years of successful operation behind it, but in their new mental health venture, they saw that identifying needs for—and engaging young people in—mental health care presents additional unknowns and challenges. To continue to grow, and to ensure that their services are able to meet youth in this moment, Hazel sought to elevate and center the needs and voices of young people in their product design process.

Enter Hopelab. Hopelab and Hazel share a vision for the future: mental health services that meet young people where they are, accessible to them no matter their circumstance. Where Hazel’s expertise lies in executing their school-based care model, Hopelab’s expertise is in engaging youth voices to better understand what they need and how to provide it. In 2021, Hopelab joined Hazel as part of their investor community. An investment from Hopelab Ventures is not only financial in nature–the engagement provides advisory services and a range of resources to amplify the social impact and capabilities of our portfolio companies.

Bringing young people’s voice and experience into these products, that’s what Hopelab Studio does. That’s the way that we can be contributing to the world. If you design it well, it gets to the people who need it. It feels right when young people see it.
Denise Ho, Hopelab

Why this matters

There is a growing mental health crisis among young people in America. As we continue to navigate the uncertainties of this pandemic, the mental health burdens that kids are bringing into the classroom are unprecedented. Symptoms of anxiety and depression among young people have increased sharply over the past two years, and this disproportionately impacts LGBTQ+ children and children of color.

Schools have long been the grounds on which mental health crises play out, and the question of the moment looms large: what do young people really need right now?

Our Approach

In September and October of 2021, Hazel and Hopelab launched a dscout exploration, collaborating with 20 teens from across the United States from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. We wanted to know: what do young people’s care journeys look like from their perspective, and how can we build program elements that meet them on that journey?

hazel demographics

hazel graph, age in years

Over the course of a month, our youth partners engaged with us in multiple exercises and discussions, sharing their experiences and reflecting on the feelings, beliefs, and needs beneath them. Following data collection, teams from Hopelab and Hazel launched a two-week data synthesis sprint.

Our findings were generated directly from the words, pictures, and marketing materials created by teens for this project.

hazel collage
notes on paper

What we learned

We emerged from this collaboration intensive with a framework—an emergent visual model—drawing on commonalities in teen perspectives and experiences. This framework helped organize our understanding of how teens think about their own mental health and the universe of support that they see as available to them.

hazel infographic

(C) 2022 Hazel Health, All Rights Reserved

The framework is centered around three loops of support-seeking behavior, the first two shining a light into the internal processes that can go on for teens in the initial stages of needing mental health support. Consideration of how to engage young people in mental health care typically starts at the third loop—seeking support from a professional—but in talking to teens, we found that there are personal, internal cycles of problem identification and help-seeking that occur long before, and sometimes instead of, seeking professional help.

I think what this unlocked for us [is how] this journey starts before they're ready to even see us.
Michael Fu, Director of Product & Behavioral Health Strategy, Hazel

Loop 1: support from self

Starting from the feeling that something isn’t right, the first loop of the framework shows how teens turn to themselves first. They explore ways to understand what they are feeling and how to feel better, sometimes by relying on strategies they’ve used in the past, or searching online for advice or connecting with peers experiencing similar challenges. In this loop, we can identify points of danger for teens (i.e., numbing, avoidant, acting out behaviors) as well as opportunities (self-awareness, self-monitoring, an impetus for self-care).

“What prompted me to want help with emotional support was the feeling of pain becoming too overwhelming. I knew I needed help when my usual coping mechanisms started to be less effective.” — M.C., 15, NY

“My family, none of them have really ever gone through anything like this, so they didn’t understand. And that was very frustrating. I try to explain it to them, trying to get them to understand, but they never really could. ” –R.T. 16, OH

From a programming perspective, there is an opportunity here to meet teens where they are, namely the places they are exploring on their own. We can support teens in the first loop by providing access to tools in the places they are looking privately, and to open the conversation about available resources. We can introduce and normalize the option of accessing professional mental health services.

A lot of looking for help happens solo and online, like TikTok and Insta. There’s also this idea of gatekeeping—that your parents or a counselor needs to be a person you go through to access mental health services. And young people are sometimes hesitant to tell those people they’re struggling. They think, I have to tell these grownups everything to show I’m needy enough to get the help. Whether or not it’s true, that’s the perception.
- Denise Ho, Hopelab project team

Loop 2: support from someone else

Should self-help strategies alone prove insufficient, teens may move on to another stage prior to accessing professional mental health services: seeking support from someone close to them. In this loop of the framework, teens assess who they can trust, and in which environments they might feel safe to open up about hard feelings.

“There are various resources online such as journaling apps, online forums and blogs, and anxiety calming games. I found many of these resources on my own through time and research on things to help me cope with my own personal trauma and struggles mentally.” — K.T. 18, TX

The opportunities to support young people at this stage include normalizing mental health conversations across relationships and teaching young people how to check in on friends who seem to be struggling, or how to react if a friend opens up to them.

“When it was really bad, TikTok honestly helped me… I saw some videos that inspired me to help myself since I’m always helping others…” — E.C., 16, Houston, TX

“We know that clinical care helps, We know that it creates better outcomes. But not everybody is going to be ready for therapy, even if they need it. Not everybody’s going to be ready to opt into something. They’re things that we can design better for the earlier part of the experience.”

—Michael Fu, Director of Product & Behavioral Health Strategy, Hazel

What’s Next

As program designers and service providers, we need to focus more in-depth on what the inequities and access gaps to mental health services really are for young people. Clinical services and portals for access are necessary solutions, but they are end-solutions, many of which go unutilized. Let’s invest in understanding the true barriers to care for teenagers and figuring out how we can help ready them to participate in clinical care. We need to pay attention to what teens are telling us about their own barriers, and where they are seeking solutions.

Interested in bringing school-based care to your school district? Learn more about Hazel or request a product demo.


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