Senate Bill S601: School-Based Mental Health

Written by Rachel Haake, M.A.

August 7, 2019


The School-Based Mental Health bill responds to the growing incidence of youth suicide in North Carolina, which has nearly doubled in the last ten years and has become the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-17. The bill requires schools to implement school-based mental health plans including a mental health training program and suicide risk referral protocols. The bill appears to be broadly supported given the high rates of suicide and mental illness in North Carolina youths.


According to the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, the rate of youth suicide in North Carolina has nearly doubled over the last decade, and suicide has become the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-17 [1]. The North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) recently reported that in 2017, 16% of high school students in North Carolina reported seriously considering suicide, and 8.2% of high school students had attempted suicide in the past year. Furthermore, in 2017 13.3% of adolescents aged 12-17 reported having a past-year major depressive episode [1]. These statistics parallel the national trend, with suicide being the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-34 [2], and with 45,000 people dying by suicide in 2016 [3]. Critically, significant barriers (e.g. transportation and accessibility of treatment) prevent individuals from receiving the mental health care they need [1].

The Bill

The Senate Bill S601 requires the NC State Board of Education to develop a school-based mental health policy. In turn, each public school, charter school, regional school, laboratory school and innovative school must implement a school-based mental health plan including a mental health training program offered to school personnel for free and a suicide risk referral protocol in compliance with the State Board’s policy. The mental health training program is required to address youth mental health, suicide prevention, substance abuse, sexual abuse prevention, and sex trafficking prevention. The suicide risk referral protocol must include guidelines on how to identify and address students at risk for suicide.

Who Supports the School-Based Mental Health Bill?

The bill’s primary sponsors are Don Davis (D, Greene and Pitt Counties), Joyce Krawiec (R, Davie and Forsyth Counties), Deanna Ballard (R, Alleghany, Ashe, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes Counties). Other sponsors include Danny Earl Britt, Jr. (R, Columbus, Robeson Counties), Vickie Sawyer (R, Iredell and Yadkin Counties), Erica D. Smith (D, Beaufort, Bertie, Martin, Northampton, Vance and Warren Counties). National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) North Carolina has offered support to a similar House Bill H601 which allocates $200,000 to during the fiscal year 2019-2020 to NAMI North Carolina to expand mental health education and awareness programs in North Carolina public schools. NAMI NC lists increased funding to expand mental health education programs focused on adolescents and college students as one of its 2019 legislative priorities, stating, “We must begin to respond to the mental health needs of young people in a much more comprehensive and holistic way” [4].

Who Opposes the School-Based Mental Health Bill?

The bill is well-supported and to our knowledge, no opposition has been publicly stated. Some concern may exist regarding whether it will be possible to provide services to as many students as needed, given that the exact number of students requiring mental health services is currently unknown, but others argue that earlier diagnosis will be beneficial rather than harmful, allowing for early intervention and thus more effective treatment [6].

Works Cited
  1. North Carolina Institute of Medicine. “North Carolina Child Health Report Card 2019.” Accessed July 18, 2019.
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Preventing Suicide.” Accessed July 18, 2019.
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Suicide Rising Across the US.” Accessed July 18, 2019.
  4. National Alliance on Mental Illness North Carolina. “2019 Legislative Priorities.” Accessed July 18, 2019.
  5. “School-Based Mental Health Program to Improve Access to Care.” JD News. Accessed July 18, 2019.

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