SC Department of Mental Health offers advice to parents following rise in school threats

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 8:32 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2021 at 10:48 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With a number of local schools experiencing lockdowns in recent weeks and school safety top of mind, parents may be having some difficult conversations with their children.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health is offering advice to parents on how to discuss this rise in school threats and other similar incidents.

Officials with the Department of Mental Health say the first step is starting the discussion.

Parents should be open and honest with their kids about these types of incidents, they say. Listening is paramount as well.

“Really listen when someone speaks to you about how they’re feeling, what they’re going through, what they’re scared of, what they’re concerned about,” Tracy LaPointe, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health Public Information Director, said.

The Department of Mental Health also believes that these types of conversations should be ongoing.

“Be open, be honest and start a dialogue and keep it going,” LaPointe said. “And don’t just do it when things are bad. Don’t just do it when things are stressful. Do it when things seem to be going well and when there isn’t a pandemic and when there isn’t a threat and when maybe things aren’t difficult. Try to foster that open discussion all the time.”

On Tuesday, a Richland Northeast High School student was charged with bringing a loaded gun to school.

On Monday, a Gilbert High School student was charged with allegedly making threats to “shoot up” other area schools, and the Columbia Police Department investigated a threat at Alcorn Middle School that was believed to have not been credible.

According to the latest tally from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, 17 weapons have been found on Lexington School District one campuses so far this school year.

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While the Department of Mental Health said it cannot speculate on why these particular incidents are happening more frequently, LaPointe said there are multiple factors that could be contributing to them.

“The normal stressors of life have all been exacerbated by so much that’s going on. The pandemic, we had civil unrest, we had politics last year. So many different things. And that really exacerbates the stress that you’re already under when you’re a young person, whether you’re a child, young adult, adolescent.”

This comes as United States Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy released a rare public health advisory on Tuesday regarding mental health challenges facing our nation’s youth.

The 53-page report explains that symptoms of depression and anxiety have doubled during the pandemic, with 25 percent of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20 percent experiencing anxiety symptoms. The report also cites an increase in impulsivity and irritability.

Locally, 2021 data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shows that 53,000 South Carolinians aged 12-17 have depression.

In these difficult times, the best thing you can do is be there for your children, the Department of Mental Health says.

“Keep an eye on them if you see their behavior change, if you see changes in their sleeping patterns or eating patterns, if something just doesn’t feel right,” LaPointe said. “Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Ask them questions. But more importantly than that, listen to the answer. And let them know ‘I’m here for you, we’re going to figure this out together.’ And then don’t be afraid to reach out to resources if you need them.”

Lexington One Superintendent Dr. Greg Little was not available for an interview on Tuesday, but the district says that he will be issuing a response on these incidents to the Lexington One community later in the week.

Officials with the Department of Mental Health also say that school counselors are a critical resource for students, particularly following these incidents. It has a robust school mental health program, and some individual schools have their own providers too.

If you or a loved one are struggling, the Department of Mental Health offers 24-7 assistance through its SC Mobile Crisis team.

Additional mental health resources are available through the Federation of Families of South Carolina and NAMI-SC, which has local chapters across the state.

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