SC Department of Mental Health News Release

For Immediate Release
Contact: John Hutto, (803) 898-8584


South Carolina's Children Have Mental Health Treatment Options
Agency Offers Services Statewide to Almost 32,000 Children

January 3, 2001-Columbia, SC: U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher reports that U.S. children's mental health needs are not being met, calling the situation a "crisis." A report released today states that one in 10 U.S. children suffer from a mental illness severe enough to impair development. In South Carolina, about 96,000 children fall in that category.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health is consistently and creatively helping these children, taking mental health services out from offices and into communities.

Louise Johnson, acting director of the Division of Children, Adolescents and their Families at SCDMH, said the department offers programs through the justice system, schools, and at the family-level to help those who may not know how to seek help. "It's not realistic for us to believe they're just going to waltz in to the local mental health center," Johnson said.

Every South Carolina county offers access to some child-based mental health services, according to Johnson. Still, SCDMH sees many children long after they should have received help. In the department's Status Offenders program, which offers services to children involved in the courts in five South Carolina counties, about seventy percent of the youth need mental health attention, Johnson said - attention they should have received earlier.

Helping children early is a focus at SCDMH. The department's school-based program has mental health counselors available in many South Carolina schools, some for seven years now. Currently, SCDMH has counselors working in 421 schools, 209 of which are elementary schools.

Citing the national trend toward using Ritalin to medicate children for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD,) School-Based Services Program Director Beth Freeman said, "In South Carolina, we go overboard to under diagnose. We don't medicate until there's a thorough assessment." Freeman added that counselors look for other causes of apparent hyperactivity to see if factors like abuse or depression may actually cause the ADHD-like symptoms. Then these issues can be treated before medication is considered.

School-based mental health treatment focuses on the family, too, by providing workshops for family members of children living with mental disorders. Also, family members are viewed as integral parts of the treatment plan for the child, so they're brought in as participants of the treatment team. Therapy at school is only as successful as the support and encouragement at home, Freeman said.

Many South Carolina families may think they can't afford mental health care for their children, according to Johnson. However, a health insurance initiative offered by the Department of Health and Human Services expands health care coverage for a number of under-insured children. The program, known as CHIPs (Children's Health Insurance Plan,) makes Medicaid insurance available to these children by broadening eligibility criteria. Johnson said most of the children receiving care through SCDMH qualify for coverage through CHIPs.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health has been serving the mental health needs of South Carolinians since 1821. Its 6,000 employees and 9,500 volunteers offer services from 17 community mental health centers and seven inpatient facilities statewide.

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