CHARLOTTE, N.C. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and state and local school officials in the Carolinas are seeking solutions to a mental health crisis among youth.
Kids have experienced a major disruption to their routines, and many were forced to face scary situations throughout the pandemic.
“We’ve all been through a really difficult time the last two years and some people are experiencing anxiety or depression or a different mental health condition they haven’t experienced before,” Jillian Hughes with Mental Health America said.
That’s starting to show in data.
Mental Health America is a nonprofit that provides free online mental health screenings and resources. Last year, 5.4 million people looking for help took a screening, a 500% increase from 2019. Of those people, 45% were younger than 18, Hughes said that’s a sign schools should be prioritizing mental health.
“We all took hearing screenings we all took vision screenings but were not all taking mental health screenings in school, so that’s something that Mental Health America would like to see implemented across the country in schools especially because so many of our youth are really struggling,” she said.
There are some changes being made to help prioritize mental health and reduce some of those alarming statistics. Union County Public Schools will put $180,000 towards expanding and supplementing existing mental health supports for students.
In South Carolina, a new report done by the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services had a failing grade. There aren’t enough counselors to cover even half of the public schools in the state.
“The ratio of counselor to student is 1:1,300, that is woefully inadequate. There are not enough resources to meet demand,” Robert Kerr, the director of SCDHHS, said in Governor Henry McMaster’s cabinet meeting.
The state is looking to cut that ratio in half over the next few years by investing more money into programs. It’s necessary, the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one counselor to 250 students.
Kerr said the migration of salary levels and COVID-19 are partly to blame for a lack of counselors.