SCDMH: More schools expanding access to mental health resources

SCDMH says 60 percent of schools use their services to help students in school

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — A growing number of school districts across the state are increasing access to mental health resources for their students.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health (SCDMH) says they now have a therapist stationed at 60 percent of South Carolina schools.

Mark Binkley, the Interim Director of SCDMH, says his ultimate goal is to have a therapist in every school district across the state, but seeing steady growth is a big step in helping more students.

“Coming out of the recession, we were only in 400 or 500 schools, and every year since, both with additional funding from the General Assembly and additional funding from the participating school districts, we’ve been increasing annually the number of schools that have an embedded mental health therapist,” Binkley said.

As more schools increase access to mental health professionals, Binkley says several factors, like funding, pre-existing partnerships between school districts and other mental health agencies, and the number of available therapists, prevent them from having all schools involved.

“We’re looking at different strategies both to get additional funding to hire additional therapists, but also to work with those school districts who may be poor, may not have a large tax base, and come up with alternate ways to help support school mental health,” Binkley said.

One district that has embraced their partnership with SCDMH is Richland School District One. Currently, the district has nine mental health professionals in their schools, and they plan to add five more by the end of the year.

“Those supports are very important if we’re talking about academic performance, if we’re talking about student well-being, you have to have all of those pieces together,” said Dr. Craig Witherspoon, the Superintendent of Richland One.

Binkley says he has seen many students thrive in the classroom as a result of SCDMH’s services on campus.

“Those students who are referred for school mental health services have improved academic performance, have lower disciplinary referrals, it really helps students who are struggling in some way,” Binkley said.

The only South Carolina county without a SCDMH therapist on campus is Saluda County.

Dr. Harvey Livingston, the Superintendent of Saluda County Schools, says his schools have three therapists through a partnership with Westview Behavioral Health. He says one of his goals as superintendent is to have a therapist at all five of his district’s campuses.

The “South Carolina School Safe Space Act”, a bill filed by Representative JA Moore (D-Berkeley County) last year, would require all schools to have one mental health professional for every 200 students. That bill is currently residing in committee.

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