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South Carolina schools see need for more mental health professionals

According to the South Carolina Committee on Children, suicide is the leading cause of death for kids between 10 and 17-years-old in South Carolina.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Teachers and mental health experts are calling for more mental health professionals to be employed in South Carolinian schools.

South Carolina was ranked 41st in the nation on overall child well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book.  

The push now is to get mental health professionals in every school across the state.

According to the South Carolina Committee on Children, suicide is the leading cause of death for kids between 10 and 17-years-old in South Carolina.

Patrick Kelly from the Palmetto State Teachers Association says teachers are trained to identify students experiencing suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety, but not to address it. “Students are facing mental health crisis that I have never seen in my 17 years in the teaching profession," said Kelly.

RELATED: Orangeburg Area Mental Health Center offering resources

He went on to say, “We need to have resources in place to address those signs immediately before it goes to far.”

Kelly says teachers are being forced to wear too many hats, and mental health professional is one of them. 

“On top of everything else that they’re being asked to do right now, that’s a factor that leads to the burnout that we’re seeing leading to mass resignations across our state.”

Kershaw County Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins says the district currently employs social workers, but says it’s not enough. “We are not nearly coming close to meeting the needs of the students that need these supports," said Dr. Robbins.

He went on to say, “If you don’t have resources to hire the individuals or to contract services, then you can’t provide the supports necessary.”

He says the Kershaw County school district is adjusting their budget to employee more experts, saying, “Try to increase revenue so that when we run out of ARP money, we can maintain the program.”

That program is called the school-based mental health services, which deploys the districts social workers.

According to the state department of Health and Human Services, school-based mental health services are available in less than 50% of public schools. The department also found that the current counselor-to-student ratio equates to roughly 1:1,300 students, which is well above what it's supposed to be.

RELATED: Children's mental health harmed by pandemic, US Surgeon General says

Jeff Leieritz from the department says come July 1st, schools will be able to hire their own counselors or contract with a private provider.

“Right now about 60% of mental health counsellors that are in South Carolina public schools are through the Department of Mental Health," said Leieritz .

Leieritz says through the increase in Medicaid reimbursement, more money will be available to pay school counselors.

If you or someone you know needs help you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 800-273-8255.

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