COLUMBIA, S.C. — On Monday, school resource officers from the Richland County Sheriff's Department learned better ways to handle students experiencing mental health crises.
According to the CDC, nearly one in five children are living with mental health disorders.
According to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book, South Carolina is one of six states that saw an increase of more than 50 percent in children's anxiety or depression from 2016-2020.
That data is why Fred Riddle with the National Alliance for Mental Illness said crisis intervention training (CIT) for SROs is so important.
“They’ll be good resources for us at NAMI when they have students with mental illness. Getting them resources, family resources, school involved in it," said Riddle.
The hours long training is focused on de-escalation, intervention, and communication tactics. It also teaches officers about the different types of mental illnesses and how to handle people suffering from them.
Lieutenant of the School Resource Officer Division Verlon Rhodes said the most impactful thing an officer can do is build relationships with the students.
"Hopefully, if they do have a mental breakdown or whatever they’ll be able to relate to us by seeing us each and every day, talking to them in a calm matter," said Rhodes.
Mental health is top of mind for a mother of three young kids like Carla Clauson
"It's easy to just dismiss a lot of emotions as kids being kids, but that's their way of expressing themselves," said Clauson.
She said she has already talked to them about topics like anxiety and depression.
"I think about how surprising it is that I’m thinking about it at a young age, that they are this age," said Clauson.
For officers and counselors, crisis intervention training brings a new approach to saving lives.
"We don’t want law enforcement officers to be hurt, we don’t want clients to be hurt," said Riddle.
The Department of Mental Health is also working to get a mental health counselor in every South Carolina School in the coming years.
Richland County currently has 97 school resource officers, with one in nearly every school. As a whole, South Carolina has nearly 1,000 SROs across the state.