Mental health services for students a priority for local and state leaders

Mental health services for students a priority for local and state leaders

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - A bill was recently introduced that would require a mental health and wellness course be offered to middle and high school students.

The bill sponsored by several members of the House of Representatives, including Representatives JA Moore, Shedron Williams, and James Clyburn would require schools to offer an elective on Mental Health and Wellness to seventh and ninth graders under the Comprehensive Health Education Act.

Lisa Spears, the coordinator for Mental Health Services with Florence School District One, believes the proposed bill could help encourage more students to talk about mental health.

“There’s been a stigma associated with mental health for so long and so many things have just come to the forefront to make us have to deal with it as a society and in families,” Spears said.

Florence One is one of three school districts to receive part of a 1.5 million dollar grant that will help put a larger focus on mental and behavioral health services for students.

Spears said mental health is at the root of the second leading cause of death for youth, suicide.

"It's so prevalent, we just can't ignore it anymore,” Spears said. "We see behaviors and we may not realize these are actual symptoms."

The grant comes after the threat of losing some of their behavioral health counselors last year. Spears said the positions were eventually saved with the help of the district’s Superintendent Dr. Richard O’Malley.

“Teachers were concerned because lots of times they may not be trained to work with the child that has a specific mental health disorder,” she said.

Spears said the funding will help expand that training to offer more services and mental health awareness. In doing that, she hopes to create an environment where students dealing mental and behavioral disorders don’t feel alone.

“We want our schools to be safe... that they’ve got a team of people around that really can help support them,” Spears said.

The bill was referred to the Education and Public Works Committee.

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