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University of South Carolina: Enhancing Capacity in School Mental Health

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says nearly 10 percent of children ages 3 to 17 have anxiety or attention-deficit disorders. CDC data also shows suicide is a leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds. With so many children and teens affected by mental health issues, there is a dire need for services.

The University of South Carolina is leading the charge to help. It’s getting students ready for careers in school mental health.

Enhancing Capacity in School Mental Health offers two programs. One is an internship program for undergraduates. The other is an enhancement program for graduate students. Both programs recruit students from across South Carolina.

“Our programs are not the typical experience,” said Dr. Courtnie Collins, research assistant professor at the university. “They provide real-world experience, and we get to really connect with our students.”

Internship for Undergraduate Students

The program for undergraduates puts interns in K-12 schools. There, they work with psychologists, social workers, counselors and other professionals who support the mental health of students. The internship trains students in basic skills to support school mental health experts. It also gives them exposure to potential career paths.

Interns help with schoolwide and small group tasks that relate to the specific needs of their schools. Tasks might include teaching about mental health in classrooms, handing out social-emotional evaluations and helping experts in group settings. Each of the milestone tasks for interns supports the overall success of mental health services in schools. Tasks also expose them to the daily work of mental health experts.

The program’s first cohort had seven interns. The number of students and school districts served has grown each semester since then. This semester, the program placed 15 interns in six school districts across the state.

“It’s powerful to see how the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation is supporting school mental health services,” said Collins. “We’re excited about the feedback from school districts.”

Graduate Student Enhancement Program

Students in the graduate enhancement program are seeking advanced degrees in mental health services. They get virtual trainings from experts in school mental health.

The trainings teach graduate students who are in mental health-related programs. These might include social work, rehabilitation counseling, clinical mental health or counselor education. They train students to be more effective in the school system. The program also recruits graduate students who may not know what field they want to work in.

Funding from the Foundation helps make both programs possible. “Grant funds from the Foundation have enabled us to exceed the number of interns we set out to support, and our programs have been well received,” said Collins. “The Foundation is pleasant and easy to work with. We hope to expand our programs for more students to be able to take part.”