By Barney Blakeney
Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson November 11 held a town hall meeting to discuss mental health issues in our community. It’s an issue that doesn’t just affect the Black community, he said, but one that transcends race, economic and social status. However, it is one to which government has given too little priority. The town hall meeting at the Royal Baptist Church Educational Building in North Charleston was held to offer and receive information and probably will be the first in a series to be held across the state, Kimpson said.
“Mental health is a big issue. I thought we should assemble the talent and experts who could have a community discussion,” Kimpson said. Some 40 people attended the meeting that continued more than an hour past its appointed time to conclude. “We had a robust discussion with testimonies from family members and relatives wanting to know how they can help their loved ones. Even the panelists learned from each other.” Kimpson noted some panelists were unaware the S.C. Dept. of Mental Health has mobile emergency teams available to go to the scene of mental health crisis incidents. Those teams are trained to de-escalate situations that can result in saving lives.
Despite an overwhelming need for services – South Carolina was among the top 15 states with the most adults struggling with a mental illness, nearly 17.6 percent of adults in the state – there is very little talk about the issue among state legislators, Kimpson said. Funding for mental health care reflects that inattention. According to one source, the state’s mental-health department is approaching crisis mode with funding at 1987 levels, Kimpson said.
In 2009 state funding for mental health was $187.3 million. In 2012 funding had dropped to $113.7 million. In 2014, the most recent available year for ranking, South Carolina ranked 37th in the nation for the prevalence of adult and youth mental illness and access to care. The state has seen progress since 2011, when it was ranked 45th overall. But after closing community mental-health centers and reducing services at its remaining facilities, the department is now serving thousands fewer patients.
While funding has increased in recent years, it’s still not back to previous levels. And that’s costing lives. Kimpson recalled the police shooting deaths of Asberry Wilder and Darryl Drayton which were fraught with the aspects of mental health. And the lives of many suffering through homelessness and drug abuse also are tied to insufficient mental health care, he said.
“We need resources to deal with that, especially with a growing population. We’re blaming gun violence on mental health as a knee-jerk reaction, but we should focus on the topic as a budgetary issue. A lot of people are talking about it, but doing nothing. There is no follow up. We have to resolve this. Families are crying out, begging for help,” he said.