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Gov. Henry McMaster, SCDHHS Release Update on Mental Health Counselors in S.C. Schools

June 7, 2023

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Governor Henry McMaster and South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS) Director Robby Kerr today provided an update on the significant progress being made in improving access to mental health counselors in South Carolina's schools.

"South Carolina has made remarkable progress over the last year enhancing student access to mental health services," said Governor McMaster. "However, our work is not done. We will continue to prioritize professional mental health counseling services for our students and look forward to seeing even more progress made in the coming years." 

The progress was documented in a letter from Director Kerr to Governor McMaster on June 5, 2023. The letter reported significant progress in the SCDHHS-led initiative based on data from a statewide January 2023 survey of mental health services available in South Carolina’s schools that SCDHHS conducted in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Education.

The survey's findings include: 

  • The mental health counselor-to-student ratio has improved from 1:1,300 in 2022 to 1:829 in 2023. 
  • The number of school-based mental health counselors has increased by 65.8%, rising from approximately 600 in 2022 to 995 in 2023. 
  • 118 schools gained access to mental health counselors from 2022 to 2023. 
  • The number of districts where each school had access to mental health counseling rose from 35 in 2022 to 42 in 2023.
  • Nine districts now have access to mental health counseling services that did not have access in 2022.

"This improvement is a testament to the collaborative approach we have developed with the school districts, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH), and the private sector and the increased reimbursement rates we have enacted for these services with your support and the support of the South Carolina General Assembly," Director Kerr wrote in the letter to Governor McMaster.

Governor McMaster requested SCDHHS review the state's public school mental health services program in his 2022 State of the State address and through Executive Order 2022-02. The results of the review and seven recommendations to improve access to mental health services in South Carolina's public schools were presented during a cabinet meeting on May 3, 2022. The recommendations were then implemented by SCDHHS on July 1, 2022. 

The goal of SCDHHS’ school-based mental health services initiative is to enhance detection of mental health concerns through access to quality mental health services and more quickly connect those in need to treatment. The emphasis on providing these services in the school-setting is supported by research from the South Carolina Behavioral Health Academy that shows children are 21 times more likely to access mental health services in schools than in another setting.

For an overview of SCDHHS’ school-based mental health services initiative, click here.