UNION COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Mental health counseling is not as accessible as it used to be, especially for students. School districts in the Upstate are saying there aren’t enough mental health counselors available for students.

They say they’re seeing an increase in depression, anxiety, and behaviors associated with suicide.

“I actually wasn’t feeling anything,” said Xander Buccheri. “I didn’t feel happy, I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel mad. I was just in a state of just blank.”

When Xander Buccheri’s grandmother passed away from Covid, he said he felt the impacts long after.

“Everything kind of spiraled out of control. She was like the center point of the family,” he said.

Buccheri is a ninth-grader at Gaffney High School. He said people started noticing he was acting differently and helped him get into therapy.

“It will light a flame that will keep going and it will just constantly burn because you’re constantly letting out all the things that you need to talk about,” said Buccheri.

Eric Childers, with Union County Schools, said it’s clear students are hurting.

“We’ve had several students look up things dealing with either self-harm or suicide idealizations or things along those lines,” said Childers.

Each student in Union has a school-issued laptop that is monitored.

“When someone starts thinking about suicide or is going through major depression, the program that we use flags that and it sends us a warning,” said Childers. “So, that we can try to intercede on behalf of that student and get them the services and the help that they need.”

That’s where specialized counseling is needed. Mental health counselors are trained differently than school counselors.

“The availability of mental health counselors is so scarce right now, that we’re struggling to get them with people that can properly help them,” said Childers.

“Kids are carrying a lot and, you know, as teachers we’re not always trained to know what to do,” said Christina Cody.

Union County Schools has reached out to Cherokee County Schools to bring the program called “FIT Together” across the county line.

“So that our students can get some of the same social and emotional supports that they’re getting in Cherokee County,” said Childers.

“Really focusing in on mental health lately and you know, knowing what we need but not being able to get it,” said Cody. “We’ve got to start teaching these coping skills.”

They’re trying to give support to any student and to teach students not to be afraid to ask for it.

“If you’re in a position to where you’re like really angry to where you want to beat the snot out of somebody, or you’re sad to where the point you just don’t want to live anymore,” said Buccheri. “Then, don’t take it upon yourself to make those decisions, try to find somebody to talk to.”

Cody said the Department of Mental Health doesn’t have the number of counselors needed for school districts. So, they have to think outside the box. One way they do this, Cody said, is by calling upon private practices to send their therapists in to provide services to students.

Cody said the program is grant-funded and she’s currently talking with Childers about taking steps to bring more mental health help to Union County.