New Online Mental Health Services Training Available for SC Schools and Teachers | Health

South Carolina is opening what could be unprecedented access to mental health training and counseling to teachers and other school support staff to meet student needs.

The John H. Magill SC School Behavioral Health Academy was established by the University of South Carolina School of Psychology and is funded by a $3.2 million grant from the SC Department of Health and Human Services . There will also be 12 pilot projects for enhanced training in school districts, including three in the Lowcountry, Midlands, Upstate and Pee Dee regions.

South Carolina has actually been a leader in school mental health since the early 1990s, but it’s something new and it’s open to everyone, said Dr. Mark Weist, director project manager and professor of clinical psychology at USC.

“We think it’s really innovative, we don’t know of any other state that’s doing something like this,” he said. “We’re offering it to all districts, all district staff, to learn about mental health.”

Through an online portal, school staff, from principals to teachers to food service staff, could access training modules that could help them learn additional skills to help students, Weist said.

“Anyone can improve their knowledge of mental health, which will increase their ability to be proactive and supportive of students as they present their needs,” he said.

There will also be specific training for counselors and mental health professionals working or wishing to be in schools, Weist said. But many of the skills school staff might learn, such as teaching problem-solving or relaxation techniques, don’t need a behavioral health degree, he said.

“A lot of things that we can do to promote mental health can be done by anyone working in a school building,” Weist said. “So the academy offers courses that are relevant to anyone interested.”

The academy is part of DHHS efforts to expand mental health services at the request of Gov. Henry McMaster earlier this year, spokesman Jeff Leieritz said.

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“It really started with the governor’s acknowledgment and the attention he brought to this (problem) through his state of the state address and also the executive order he issued to have us look at the school mental health services,” he said.

In that order, McMaster noted a 31% increase in mental health-related ED visits by teens in 2020 compared to 2019, while less than half of schools were seeing state-provided clinicians. On average, six children a day show up for mental health services at the pediatric emergency room at the Medical University of South Carolina, just in Charleston, Leieritz said.

Jeff Leieritz

Jeff Leieritz, director of communications and public relations for the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Provided

According to Mental Health America’s “2022 State of Mental Health in America” ​​report, more than two-thirds of children in South Carolina with major depression did not receive treatment for it, which was the 46th, or the sixth worst, among all states. and the District of Columbia. The state was also fourth worst for the number of children with emotional or behavioral problems who had an individualized education plan tailored to their needs, with just over 2,100 children in South Carolina receiving this service.

The data in that report was from 2019 or earlier, and by all indicators “it got worse during the pandemic,” Leieritz said.

It is not just the pandemic, but all the other issues, such as widespread social division, that emerged around the same time that Weist calls “pandemic-plus”. To address this issue, it’s important to take a holistic approach that looks at the social, emotional, behavioral and academic aspects of students’ lives, he said.

“Ideally, programming should be balanced and focused on all of these areas,” Weist said.

But within schools, with distance learning and other issues, there have been academic declines in some students over the past few years and schools may be trying to catch up with that now, he said. declared.

“School administrators, school leaders will often feel pressured to focus exclusively on academics, but that’s not what we need,” Weist said. “That’s not what young people, families and teachers tell us.”

More mental health counselors needed at SC schools, state director of Medicaid says

To help increase the availability of behavioral health in schools, Medicaid addressed a pay disparity that paid school counselors $37 per session for work for which Department of School Mental Health counselors received $77 per session. session. Equalizing that salary would encourage more schools to hire their own counselors to receive the enhanced payments and so far, that appears to be the case: 30 districts are considering contracting directly with counselors to provide or supplement these services. , compared to 14 who contracted directly the previous year. , Leieritz said.

“It’s an encouraging first sign,” he said.

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