By Barney Blakeney
The August 7 stabbing deaths of two young boys at the hand of their mentally ill uncle points to a need for more resources to support the mentally ill. Local law enforcement authorities say on any given day as much as 20 percent of the inmates at the Al Cannon Detention Center suffer some type of mental illness. But local lawmakers say they can’t anticipate more help any time soon.
Family members said 26-year-old Raashid White was struggling with mental illness when something triggered his anger. He forced his sister out of the apartment where they lived with her two young sons, ages two and eight. When police arrived they found the two boys stabbed to death.
Charleston County Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas said throughout his 34-year career in law enforcement he’s had to deal with the mentally. Most only are a danger to themselves, but on occasion some become dangerous to others, he said. White’s family obviously didn’t think he’d be a danger to them. “You never can tell,” Lucas said.
In addition to the mentally ill, there are individuals suffering with emotional distress. But the pendulum regarding treatment for mental illness has swung in the opposite direction form decades ago when the prevailing thought was to institutionalize mentally ill individuals. People are walking around with mental illness and somehow find ways to co-exist, Lucas said. But sometimes they come into conflict with the law.
Charleston County Sheriff Department spokesman Maj. Eric Watson said over the past two years about 60 percent of deputies have received crisis intervention training to help them when confronted with mentally ill individuals. Charleston County is fortunate, Lucas said. As one of the state’s larger communities with a large detention facility resources are available such as the relationships with mental health agencies such as the Medical University of South Carolina and Roper/St. Francis Tri-County Crisis Stabilization Center. And the department has a Therapeutic Transport Unit. Those advantages provide the department a more balanced approach to dealing with mentally ill individuals, Lucas said.
Still, law enforcement only comes into interaction with the mentally ill after the fact, Watson emphasized. He and Lucas say more resources have to be put in place before things get to that point.
North Charleston Rep. David Mack, a psychology major in college, spent a year after graduating working at the S.C. State Hospital’s maximum security ward. He realized then, he said, that mental illness is a disease any one can contract. But our society and the legislature don’t treat it as such. As with other medical issues, South Carolina’s general assembly remains relatively insensitive to the needs of the mentally ill, Mack said.
The Department Of Mental Health operates some 60 community-based outpatient mental health centers serving about 100,000 patients per year. But the state’s 2017 $216 million appropriation to the agency keeps it woefully underfunded, he said, and doesn’t afford quality care to individuals who may not have adequate insurance to secure better care.
“There’s a segment of our community that cares about the mentally ill and there’s a segment that has another agenda,” Mack said. “I don’t see any change in their attitude on the horizon. Until that changes we’ll continue to see people walking around talking to themselves. Some of them will commit crimes. Unfortunately some of them will commit horrendous crimes,” Mack said.