SC Department of Mental Health News Release

For Immediate Release
November 5, 2002
Contact: John Hutto, Director of Communications
(803) 898-8584

Mental Health Issues in South Carolina Mirrored in
Interim Report of the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health

Columbia, SC Ė Just released to President George W. Bush, the national "Interim Report of the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health" accurately reflects the state of mental health service delivery in South Carolina.

Specifically, the report to President Bush indicates that nationally mental illness is a serious public health problem that is highly treatable and must be addressed. In South Carolina, about 750,000 citizens have a diagnosable mental illness. Last year, the Department of Mental Health provided services to over 100,000 of these citizens, including some 33,000 children and adolescents.

Further, the "Interim Report" says that "One in 10 children and adolescents have a severe emotional disorder, placing them at higher risk for substance abuse, dropping out of school, violence and suicide." In South Carolina, the Department of Mental Healthís school-based programs are designed to meet the needs of these children and adolescents. Last year, the Department served about 12,000 children and adolescents in its school-based program, the largest of its type in the nation, with a 38 % penetration rate in the school system. Because of the Departmentís school-based program, the great majority of the children served stay in school, with their families, and out of the juvenile justice system vs. 60% nationally.

A second major finding of the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health is that the approach to public mental health in the United States is flawed, mainly as a result of inadequate funding and stigma. In South Carolina, the Department of Mental Health continues to be challenged to serve an ever growing population with constantly dwindling resources. In the last 18 months, the Department has lost over $30 million in state appropriations and about $20 million more in federal money. The consequences of such reductions are being seen in higher case loads, fewer staff, programs being closed, people going unserved, back ups in emergency rooms, inmates waiting in jails for treatment.

As in the "Interim Report," the Department clearly understands that one of the primary barriers that keep mentally ill people from seeking treatment is stigma and the publicís misperception that people with a mental illness are more prone to violence than is the general population. Through its community plans and public education initiatives, the Department of Mental Health strives to help the media, legislative bodies, and the general public be more knowledgeable about mental illness and come to understand that mental illness are treatable medical disorders and that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than people without a mental illness.

A third finding of the "Interim Report" is that despite obstacles there have been significant advances in the quality of mental health services, and many opportunities exist for knowledge based-improvements.

In South Carolina, the Department of Mental Health leads the way in the delivery of high quality, knowledge-based services in support of its mission to help people with a mental illness recover. Its Toward Local Care (TLC) program is a nationally recognized model for helping people gradually move back into their communities after long stays in psychiatric hospitals. The Departmentís tele-psychiatry service utilizing video conferencing technology is being replicated across the country. Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) programs continue to be rolled out as best practices as do efforts to improve housing and employment for people with mental illnesses.

As reflected in the "Interim Report," many different agencies are collaborating to serve people with a mental illness. In South Carolina, this is true. The Department of Mental Health continues to build alliances with advocacy groups and other state agencies. For example, with the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) the DMH is partnering to provide services to people who have a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. With local jails, the Department is working on solutions to divert mentally ill people from jail. With local hospitals, the Department is collaborating to provide crisis stabilization and diversion programs to keep people out of emergency rooms. With Vocational Rehabilitation, the Department is partnering to help people with mental illnesses find meaningful jobs.

Finally, the "Interim Report" contends that most services can be delivered effectively in the community. In South Carolina, about 90 % of the people served by the Department are served in the community through a network of seventeen mental health centers and about 150 specialty offices and clinics. It is the Departmentís goal to continue to grow community services to help people with a mental illness and their families recover and lead normal, productive lives.

President George W. Bush created the New Freedom Commission of Mental Health in April 2002, saying that Americans "with mental illness deserve our understanding, and they deserve excellent care." See www.mentalhealthcommission.gov for more.

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