COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Doctors are teaching therapists how to interact with child patients over a screen, much like video calling through Facetime and Skype. Telepsychiatry is one mental health tool and idea to make schools safer by getting therapy to students where they need it.

Dr. Kathryn Cristaldi, at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, says children can even respond better to therapy over webcam than in person. 

Cristaldi is the Medical Director for School-based Health. “People actually report that they feel more comfortable in some instances having that little bit of separation using technology," Cristaldi explained.   

The Department of Mental Health is readying to try it. However, staff say it shouldn’t replace having at least one mental health specialist in each school, to interact and spot troubled behavior. Only about half of schools in the state have that, now. That leaves about 600 people that could be hired to fill the other half. 

“So the answer to making schools safer, there’s not one simple answer," Director of School Mental Health Services Allison Farrell said. "But what telepsychiatry does do is it makes sure that kids that may have limited access to care, then we have a healthier more well school."  

Farrell claims that telepsychiatry is not meant to replace these people, except in rural schools with fewer students.

"We need to think out of the box," Cristaldi said. "I think in healthcare in general, and particularly in areas of the country where we do have a decreased number of providers."  

There are still issues the Department of Mental Health has to overcome in installing telepsychiatry programs, too. In rural districts, there can be technology hurdles like limited internet and Wifi access. 

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