HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Many students have been in school for about a month now and the topic of suicide and mental health is in the spotlight. As a result, more states are requiring mental health education.
Several states have either approved or have legislation in the works related to mental health education. In South Carolina, a bill was introduced earlier this year to implement mental health in the classroom.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than six million children in the United States have anxiety or depression. The CDC reports suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, and the number of children aged 6 to 17 years diagnosed with anxiety or depression has increased over time.
The South Carolina Department of Mental Health has a goal to have counselors available in every single school by 2022. Officials say the state is on track to accomplish that. The organization says nearly 40% of schools in the Palmetto State do not have a mental health clinician.
When it comes to mental health, Horry County Schools says it takes the topic seriously. This year, the district brought on three more Rehabilitative Behavioral Health Services counselors. Now, with the help of the Waccamaw Center for Health Services, all 56 schools in the district have at least one counselor on hand at all times.
Each counselor is available five days a week during school hours and beyond if needed, meaning they can provide home-based services to students. Each school also has a bullying prevention and intervention team, as well as a plan in place to deter bullying.
State lawmakers believe even more resources should be available, as they want to make mental health education required in the classroom. Rep. Annie McDaniel says the topic of mental health is just as important as academics, if not more.
“To me, academic discipline takes you where you want to go. But in order for you to get what comes from the academic, you have to be cleansed of the things that cloud your mind," said McDaniel.
Horry County Schools spokesperson Lisa Bourcier says schools currently have a wellness curriculum through physical education and health classes, but not mental health.
McDaniel is one of several state lawmakers behind a proposed bill she believes could help encourage more students to talk about mental health. The bill is called the Comprehensive Health Education Act. It would require schools to offer an elective on wellness and mental health to seventh and ninth graders. The course would help students identify symptoms of a possible disorder and coping skills.
McDaniel says times have changed and mental health is now viewed as a broader topic, ranging from severe mental health disorders to anxiety. She wants to remind students and parents that open conversation is key. In doing that, she hopes to ultimately create an environment where students dealing with mental disorders don’t feel alone.