A response to the letter to the editor titled “Schools must help children battle mental illness,” written by Greenville County Schools alumna and Duke University student Laurel Holley, which appeared in the May 13, 2022, edition of the Greenville Journal.
We want to thank GCS alumna Laurel Holley for her letter published in the May 13 issue, in which she shared her experiences and suggestions for improving services. Greenville County Schools has worked many years to strengthen mental health support for our students. In 1993, we were the first district in South Carolina to offer in-school mental health services. Since then, our partnership with Greater Greenville Mental Health Center has grown to providing school-based therapists in all schools. These programs are vital for children, as the National Center for School Mental Health tells us that 75% of children who receive mental health services receive them at school. When services are not accessible at school, children often do not receive needed mental health assistance.
Before COVID-19, children were experiencing an epidemic of mental health challenges. According to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24 in the U.S. and in South Carolina. Depression, anxiety and trauma were common experiences for children, and 20% had diagnosable mental health disorders.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this mental health crisis. Rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, psychiatric ER visits, and suicidality all increased significantly nationwide. In Greenville County, reflecting national trends, we saw the largest number of child deaths by suicide in memory.
Now printed on every student’s ID badge is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the text number for the GCS crisis line, ensuring that this lifesaving assistance is available to any student. Greater Greenville Mental Health Center continues to serve all our schools with therapists. The district has increased its number of school counselors, psychologists and social workers. As of this year, faculty and staff at every school were trained in trauma-informed practices, and many were trained in additional supports like youth mental health first aid. Schools are teaching
children healthy skills for coping with emotions, maintaining mental health and building healthy relationships. These steps are necessary for preventing deaths by suicide, for proactively supporting the mental health needs of children and making schools safe. Future years will see implementation of expanded mental health literacy for all students and staff. Families, students, staff and community partners are all working together to ensure we implement the best possible plans. Together, we have developed emotional support for children that is among the strongest in the nation.
The only acceptable number of suicide deaths is zero, and we all have a mandate to be part of the community that raises healthy, supported children. We could never do enough to make sure children thrive, but we will never stop trying. We are thankful for all who advocate and contribute to the paramount priority of caring for all of our children.