District Five has become the first school district in the Midlands and one of the first in South Carolina to offer school telepsychiatry (telepsych).

Telepsychiatry – virtual psychiatry visits over video – will help reduce travel time and avoid missed psychiatry appointments for students, school officials say. Through a partnership with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (SCDMH), school telepsychiatry is currently being offered as a pilot program at two schools in School District Five: River Springs Elementary and Oak Pointe Elementary.

“One of the priorities we’ve set as a district is to promote an environment where students and staff feel safe physically, emotionally and socially. Telepsychiatry is one way we are focused on meeting these important needs,” said School District Five Superintendent Dr. Christina Melton. “Mental health is a national issue. In School District Five, we are committed to providing opportunities for our students to have access to resources to support their wellness. …And we are doing what we can to address the important matter of mental health.”

Telepsychiatry uses a high-definition video connection between patient and mental health provider. The patient is located in a private room, where he or she can communicate in real time with the provider. The technology makes it possible for a patient to have an assessment with a psychiatrist in another location, with the same quality as a personal, face-to-face meeting in the doctor’s office.

“SCDMH is dedicated to early intervention and treatment for youth in need of services,” said SCDMH Interim State Director Mark Binkley. “Expanding our Agency’s telepsychiatry system to include schools will result in greater access to mental health care for kids, supporting not only their mental wellbeing, but their academic goals.”

Dr. Michael Harris, Chief Planning and Administration Officer for the district, said, “We are very excited in School District Five to expand the services of our partnership with the state Department of Mental Health. For several years, our board has approved the partnership to provide mental health providers in several of our schools. As we continue to build and expand these services to other schools, we are so very fortunate to be the first in the Midlands to offer telepsychiatry services to our students and families. By doing so, we eliminate travel requirements, missed appointments and delay of services. Instead, the telepsych opportunity offers a full range of services right in our schools through the use of technology.”

River Springs Elementary School Principal Matt Gams said, “The telepsych service offered through the Department of Mental Health is such a benefit to our students and our families at River Springs Elementary. It allows our students the opportunity to stay in school and for our parents to stay within our community to participate in getting support for their child.”

School District Five already has mental health providers assigned to schools. Lexington County schools have seven, and Richland County schools have two.