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S. Carolina: 15-20% of kids have mental health problems; more money needed for counselors

Dec 31, 2019, Greenville (SC) News: 1 in 6 children experience mental health disorders The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 6 children ages 2 to 8 has a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. But it's not just young children — 1 in 6 children ages 6 to 17 also experience a mental health disorder each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In a school district like Pickens County's, whose average class sizes range from 20 to 22 students, that means between three and four students per class are likely to experience a mental health crisis in a given year. Educators across South Carolina have lobbied lawmakers for more funding to add mental health counselors in schools. Mental health counselors with the state Department of Mental Health served more than 16,000 students in public schools last year. Mental health program director for the Greater Greenville Mental Health Center, said the state has budgeted for school mental health counselors since 2014. In May this year, legislators budgeted an additional $2.2 million to go toward putting a mental health counselor in every school — a goal the state hopes to achieve by 2022, according to Ryan Brown, spokesperson for the state Department of Education. Greenville County Schools is fortunate — the district was able to add a mental health counselor to every school last year. But not all districts have the funding for counselors in every school, and because of shortages in the profession, it can be hard to recruit mental health professionals to rural counties. "We certainly need more mental health therapists," Haines said…. "When they're saying 15% to 20% of all your children are going through mental health crises at one point or another, we can't hire that many mental health professionals," Culler said. "There aren't that many available." Even when they are available, families still have to pay for those services, just as they would if they visited a counselor outside of school…. Culler had the idea to partner with Prisma Health on the mental first aid training after attending a session for adults. It focuses on destigmatizing mental health issues and showing students how to spot and respond to a crisis. "When we get to that point to where mental health crises or mental health issues are seen exactly the same as a physical ailment, then we've achieved something as a society and as a school," Culler said. "No student at Easley High School would walk past a student sitting on the floor injured without trying to help. We just need to get to that point with mental health."


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