IMPH Executive Director Maya Pack recently interviewed with the Post and Courier regarding IMPH and the South Carolina Behavioral Health Coalition’s (SCBHC) joint Behavioral Health 2021 Progress Report.

One in five South Carolinians has a mental health diagnosis, according to a new report, and while notable improvements have been made, the state remains poorly equipped to treat everyone who needs help.

A group of South Carolina’s health leaders at the S.C. Institute of Medicine and Public Health and the S.C. Behavioral Health Coalition took stock of the last six years regarding progress in the state’s mental health care and published a report advocating for widespread change in treatment for people with mental illness and substance use disorders within schools, hospitals, jails and prisons.

The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the state’s mental health problems. For one, fatal overdoses from opioids were up at least 20 percent between 2019 and 2020, and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control says the deaths accelerated during the pandemic.

The report points out areas where the state has followed through in the recommendations leaders laid out in 2015. Notable among them is the establishment of mobile crisis units modeled after a program begun in the Charleston region in 1987. People who work for these units assess patients’ needs and try to connect them with services outside of emergency rooms or jails. Since the program was expanded statewide in 2018, the units have served about 8,000 people, according to the report.

“The efforts towards the mobile crisis program have been a significant contribution, especially as we experience a lack of inpatient psychiatric beds and long emergency department waits as a result of lack of access,” said Elizabeth Harmon, executive director of the Behavioral Health Coalition.

According to the advocacy group Mental Health America, South Carolina ranks 43rd overall in a nationwide lineup in 2021, indicating that the systems in place to care for people with mental illnesses are inadequate.

The rank has fallen 10 spots since 2015. Though South Carolina has middling rates of mental illness, the state’s ability to address patients’ needs is poor. And the situation for youth is worse than it is for adults, Mental Health America’s analysis shows.

The S.C. Department of Mental Health has received more funding from the state Legislature in recent years for school-based programs, said Maya Pack, executive director of the Institute of Medicine and Public Health. As a result, the agency has placed dozens of school counselors across the state.

“It’s growing, it just might not be growing fast enough to meet that need fully,” Pack said.

Though broadly COVID-19 has worsened people’s mental health, the pandemic created some new opportunities.

Read the full article by Mary Katherine Wildeman here.