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A win for Gov. McMaster and SCDHHS: South Carolina schools double mental health counselors in two years

South Carolina – Governor Henry McMaster and the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS) have made big steps forward in increasing the number of mental health counselors in schools for South Carolina’s kids. A survey from September 2023 of the state’s school districts showed that the number of these counselors reached 1,209 at the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, up from 600 in January 2022.

This achievement is possible thanks to Gov. McMaster’s executive order from 2022

This achievement comes shortly after Governor McMaster asked SCDHHS in early 2022 to take a close look at how mental health services were being provided in public schools. He made this request during his State of the State speech and also issued an Executive Order, numbered 2022-02, to kickstart this review.

“In just the past two years, we have made significant progress in providing school-based mental health services to school-aged children,” said Governor McMaster. “With an ongoing mental health crisis, especially among our young people, it is critical that we continue to build upon these efforts and ensure mental health resources are available and accessible to our state’s children.”

The review by the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS) revealed that back in January 2022, there was only one mental health counselor for every 1,300 students, and about 60% of these counselors working in schools were hired by the state’s Department of Mental Health.

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Following these discoveries, SCDHHS’s Director, Robby Kerr, suggested seven ways to make it easier for students in public schools to get mental health services. His main aim was to reduce the ratio of mental health counselors to students by half by 2023. These suggestions were put into action on July 1, 2022. They included raising the payment rates for school-based mental health counselors through the state’s Medicaid program, Healthy Connections, and making it easier for school districts to hire or make contracts with mental health providers.

Thanks to Gov. McMaster and S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of mental health counselors in schools has doubled

By September 2023, things had gotten better, with the ratio of counselors to students dropping to about 1:653. Also, most mental health counselors were now working directly for the schools. Plus, mental health services had expanded to 230 more schools since January 2022, covering every school district across the state.

“This tremendous progress in improving access to vital services for our state’s children was achieved by adopting a collaborative approach between state agencies, local school districts and the private sector,” said SCDHHS Director Kerr. “The emphasis on providing these services through our public schools is important as research from the South Carolina School Behavioral Health Academy shows children are 21 times more likely to access a mental health service through a school than in another setting.”

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Support through a grant

Besides the changes made on July 1, 2022, the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS) also introduced a $3.2 million grant in September 2022 to help the South Carolina School Behavioral Health Academy. If you want to learn more about SCDHHS’s efforts to offer mental health services in schools, check their website for detailed information.

Key Youth Behavioral Health Statistics

  • According to a recent report from the Boston Consulting Group, 77% of youth in South Carolina with a major depressive episode do not receive any mental health treatment. This is well above the national average of 60%.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youth suicide has increased significantly from 2007 through 2021. Suicide rates for Americans ages 10 to 24 rose 62%.
  • Nationally, the number of mental health visits in pediatric emergency departments increased from 7.7% of all encounters in 2011 to 13.1% in 2020.
  • According to the South Carolina School Behavioral Health Academy, children are 21 times more likely to access mental health services in schools than in any other setting.
  • In 2021, national data indicates 30% of female high school students seriously considered suicide, an increase from 24.1% in 2019, according to the CDC.
  • In 2021, national data indicates 13.3% of female high school students attempted suicide, an increase from 11% in 2019, according to the CDC.
  • High school students with depression are more than twice as likely to drop out than their peers.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for South Carolinians between ages 10-14.
  • Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for South Carolinians between ages 15-17.

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