HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — As Horry County students prepare for the upcoming school year, the district is working on ways to address mental health issues.

Tonya Pickett, director of counseling services for Horry County Schools, said the main goal is to keep students happy, healthy and learning. As they grow into adulthood, it’s important for them to know it’s OK to ask for help, she said.

“Knowing that student. and knowing what their baseline is, and paying attention to changes … is really, really important,” Pickett said.

The first day of school is always a mix of emotions. A new grade, new teachers, and, for some, a whole new environment. All of this while living in the age of COVID-19.

That’s why proper care and support are crucial for mental health, something the district said it is prepared to provide.

“We want to make sure that we start at a very early age impressing upon them the importance of seeking help when they need it, and being OK asking for that assistance,” Pickett said.

She said the district always keeps schools properly staffed with counselors. At the high school level, there are about 60. Roughly 55 are staffed at the middle-school level and about 45 at the elementary level.

Pickett said a counselor’s relationship with students is important in addressing any mental health concerns.

“One size doesn’t fit all, and so it’s really important for us to have relationships with our families, with our students, with their parents, so that we can assess their individual needs and make suggestions for what might help their specific situations,” she said.

The district is also prepared with other resources both inside and out of the classroom. In addition to counselors, it officers a clinical program called Rehabilitative Behavioral Health Services that provides more intensive services to those who need it.

The district has also invested in an outside program called Care Solace

“Whether it is they’re looking for telehealth services because transportation is an issue, whether there are insurance or payment issues, so regardless of the circumstances, if we can’t offer those services, then our students and our families can have access to care coordination,” Pickett said.

But the efforts don’t stop there. Pickett said the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline will be printed on all middle and high school student ID cards.

“What we are trying to do is keep our students happy, keep them healthy and keep them learning,” she said. “And as they grow into adulthood, we want them to know that it’s okay to ask for help.”