South Carolina is joining the growing list of States that have signed laws that teach about mental health in schools which has heightened importance during COVID.
At MHANYS, our School Mental Health Resource and Training Center continues to be a leading voice in New York and across the country around mental health instruction in schools. For more information about the work of the Center, go to www.mentalhealthednys.org.
Thanks to MHANYS board member Jamie Papapetros for sharing this story
Gov. Henry McMaster signs “Health Education Act” to teach mental health in schools
by Rachel Ellis
Tuesday, September 29th 2020
DORCHESTER COUNTY, SC (WCIV) — A bill that focuses on mental health in schools was signed into law this afternoon, a spokesperson for Governor Henry McMaster confirmed to ABC News 4 on Tuesday afternoon.
It’s called the “Health Education Act” and it is a bill that is personal to a former Fort Dorchester High School student and a critical conversation for a South Carolina State Representative.
Gweneth Gough began her fight with mental health at a young age.
“I felt just very alone going through that whole process,” she said.
The journey began in middle school and through her years at Fort Dorchester High School, saying she felt alone throughout it.
“I didn’t feel like I could talk to my friends or peers about it,” Gough said.
She said mental illness also took the lives of people who walked the same hallways.
“Friends, classmates. We had so many suicides happen. It was almost every year we could have one or two,” Gough said.
Gough knew something had to be done. She teamed up with State Representative JA Moore, and they created the “Health Education Act.”
“We were like we need to do something about it. And that’s what we did. We worked on this bill and got input from the Department of Education, the Department of Mental Health, NAMI, other interest groups,” Representative Moore said.
A NAMI representative said the bill is a “game changer” for South Carolina public schools.
“Gov. McMaster signing this really sends a message from the top down that he is supporting mental health for all. We all have mental health and that it’s just as important as physical health,” NAMI Charleston Area Outreach Coordinator Kelly Troyer said.
Gough hopes that same message is shared right inside the classroom.
“I feel like if I had a class in place, or just educated, pretty much on what mental health is, that just alone normalizes that it’s actually something that people struggle with and that it is not uncommon,” Gough said.
State lawmakers said this is only the beginning.
“Getting participation from people in the district and across the state is going to be important as we strengthen this law moving forward,” Moore said.
Gough said with mental health education, more students will reach out for help.
“In the end game, we are going to break the stigma, and it’s going to be great,” Gough said.
NAMI said the coronavirus has put more focus on mental health awareness. The organization said it’s thankful South Carolina recognizes its importance.
A statement ABC News 4 received from The South Carolina Department of Education said “The South Carolina Department of Education is committed to providing students and educators with the tools and resources to support social and emotional learning and health as outlined in the legislation. We look forward to continuing to provide these supports and resources throughout the current school year and will incorporate them into the health standards at the next cyclical review and revision.