We often forget to consider the important role our educators have in the lives of their students. Teachers and other school staff members see our children on a regular basis, witness their interactions with peers, and have the ability to notice subtle changes in behaviors over time. This unique exposure to our young population puts educators in a special, but often challenging position when it comes to mental health. For the Robert Duffee Project, our aim is to promote mental health risk assessments in schools.

“Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in South Carolina for individuals aged between 10-24”

-American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

In July of 2022, The South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services launched a state-wide initiative focused on improving students’ access to mental health services. This initiative empowered school districts to choose to:

Continue to utilize the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH) by contracting with DMH who will then bill South Carolina Healthy Connections Medicaid;

  • Hire their own counselors and bill Healthy Connections Medicaid directly;
  • Contract with a private provider who will bill Healthy Connections Medicaid directly; or,
  • Use a combination of these delivery methods to meet the needs of the children in their district.


Although initiatives like this gives us hope we’re headed in the right direction, we know that we all have the power to individually contribute to progress. The Robert Duffee Project is one of three initiatives that make up The Jonathan Foundation’s current campaign; all three support the national campaign led by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, aiming to reduce suicide by 20 percent by the year 2025.

Why risk assessments?

Risk assessments are intended to gauge a student’s current mental state and can be used as a metric for comparison over time. It can be incredibly difficult to know how an individual is feeling and coping with life’s challenges. Teachers and those in academic settings can use these assessments in conjunction with current state-wide efforts to improve prevention strategies among students. Furthermore, these assessments give professionals workable, tangible responses that can be used to study leading causes of depression, anxiety, trauma and stresses that may lead to suicidal ideations. By understanding these variables and how they contribute to mental health, we can develop better ways of helping our youth.

Why we chose this initiative.

Robert Duffee was a vibrant young man who fell victim to suicide. His mother, Gracelyn Elmendorf, feels this campaign is the most effective way to honor his memory and prevent suicide in other young adults and students. Hear her story yourself by watching this video.

Please help us reduce the rate of suicide and improve prevention efforts by implementing risk assessments in your educational settings!