COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) –Amid an ongoing youth mental health crisis, officials in South Carolina say an interactive mental health screening tool for minors will be available in 2023.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH) announced they have received a grant from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors that will help them expand their mental health screener program.

DMH Office of Emergency Services Director Jennifer Butler said they’ll be working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as well. Once this new screening tool is launched, South Carolina will be the first state to offer this to children and teens.

According to Butler, it will take them about 8 months to develop the screening tool. It will be based on the free, interactive ‘Hope Connects You’ screener available to anyone over the age of 18 in South Carolina right now.

Mental health officials launched that screener alongside the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) during the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Parents and guardians will answer the questionnaire based on responses from their children. A trained screening counselor will contact them about the next steps.

Butler said, “This screener is going to be able to help that parent, that guardian, really discern what’s going on and validate what’s going on and link them to that next level of care.”

Officials are hopeful this preventive step will help aid their suicide prevention efforts, especially among children.

According to data from the state Revenue of Fiscal Affairs, the number of emergency department visits for suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, or intentional self-harm among South Carolinians under the age of 18 has steadily increased since 2016.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts you can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. You can also call SCDMH’s Mobile Crisis Team at 833-364-2274.