South Carolina Department of Mental Health
School Mental Health Services (SMHS)
October 2018


The South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH) is the leading School Mental Health Services (SMHS) provider across South Carolina (SC). SMHS provide school children diagnostic services, intervention services, and a range of treatments including individual, group, and family therapy. During the 2018-2019 academic year SMHS will be provided in over 700 public schools across South Carolina. Last year over 16,000 of SC’s public school students received SMHS.

Masters-level Mental Health Professionals (MHPs), specializing in the provision of school mental health care, provide SMHS year-round utilizing Evidence-Based Practices. MHPs assist students, families and schools in developing comprehensive behavioral healthcare strategies to address needs that may interfere with student educational outcomes and overall wellbeing. MHP’s promote whole-school wellness and support school leadership as they navigate the intersection of social, emotional, and academic outcomes of students. SMHS provide non-stigmatizing and easily accessible services to children and their families in the school setting.

Overview of DMH School Mental Health Services:

SMHS are partnerships between the local Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) and school districts, parents/family members, teachers/school staff, community organizations, businesses and city/county governments. SMHS give students access to a full array of clinical services such as psychiatric care, individual, family and group treatment, as well as care coordination. Barriers to learning are addressed so that the general well-being of students, families and school staff can be enhanced in collaboration with other comprehensive student support services.

The following are core features of DMH’s School Mental Health Services:

SMHS Professionals: All DMH school mental health professionals are Masters-level clinicians specializing in the provision of mental health care for school children. Research shows that direct practice in the school setting improves academic performance and attendance and reduces suspensions (Anthony & Sebian, 2011). MHPs also engage in universal prevention activities at the group, classroom, grade, and whole school level. School MHP’s are trained in clinical assessments, evidence-based evaluations and interventions. They facilitate psychiatric evaluations and consultation, and crisis intervention. MHP’s provide parent and teacher trainings on mental health issues.  MHPs develop individualized treatment plans in partnership with the student and family to meet the student’s needs.

Children and Families: SMHS provides an opportunity for the early identification of children with behavioral and emotional health needs. MHP’s provide family-friendly services in the school setting during and after school hours for family convenience. Crisis response and classroom supports allow MHP’s to intervene in ways that support the student in the school setting and reduce rates of discipline referrals that often lead to reduced class time for students and demands on caregivers that impact their time at work. SMHS are sensitive to student and family culture. SMHS effectively address barriers and stigma that negatively impact care and are a consistent and accessible way for student and families to access mental health services in their communities. Having programs on-site improves school climate by reducing discipline problems, which allows teachers to spend more time teaching.

Schools and Communities: SMHS are implemented statewide through each of the 16 Community Mental Health Centers. MHP’s are employed by DMH and supervised by the CMHC but integrate into a school community alongside the school’s staff. SMHS support, develop and strengthen a school’s referral network and relationships with qualified local providers. SMHS facilitate a streamlining of referral criteria and establish protocols and referral network/linkages with outside agencies that assure appropriate and timely interventions for students. SMHS provide comprehensive access to care by directly linking students to medically necessary psychiatric treatment and evaluation.

History of DMH School Mental Health Services and Programs

DMH has been a leader in providing SMHS since 1993, when its first full-time SMHS program was implemented in Simpsonville, SC. As of September 2019, DMH provides SMHS in over 750 schools.

Bottom Line

DMH’s School Mental Health Services improve access to community mental health services for children and their families. The information exchange and collaboration that develops between school teachers, counselors, administrators, and school-based mental health staff improves early identification and treatment for children in need. SMHS help to increase school attendance, decrease discipline referrals and reduce youth involvement with the juvenile justice system. These positive outcomes for the student and their families also positively correlate to a decreased risk for violence in the school and community.