Put an emphasis on mental health

By Steve Caywood

Over the past two years the term “stressed out” has taken on a new meaning for many of us across our country as we have learned to adapt to the challenges COVID-19 has introduced to our lives.

During the same time the national office of Mental Health America saw an increase of 500% over 2019, with over 5.4 million people accessing its online mental-health screening service.

This is a reminder that 1 in 5 people in our country has diagnosable mental illness each year, with 1 in 25 adults living with serious mental illness.  

Applying these numbers to Beaufort County’s current population of more than 200,000 people, places roughly 40,000 in the 1 in 5 category and 8,000 in the 1 in 25 category for having a serious mental illness.  

The more challenging side of this is that roughly only one-third of these people seek help and/or get treatment, with the remaining two-thirds going undiagnosed or treated. And this does not include the number of children and teens with mental illness.

That leads us to the key question:  How do we as a community address the needs of those struggling with mental illness, the challenges they face and the stigma so often associated to it?

While there are not enough licensed psychiatrists and psychologists to meet the need, we are fortunate to have access to a broad array of other health professionals, counselors and organizations throughout Beaufort County.  

Some of the organizations here to help fill the gaps include Coastal Empire Mental Health, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as well as the county’s only inpatient mental health unit located at Beaufort Memorial Hospital and our organization, Mental Health America-Beaufort/Jasper.  

Founded on Hilton Head in 1976, Mental Health America-Beaufort/Jasper relocated to Bluffton in 2014 and has operated continuously for 46 years, providing outpatient mental-health group counseling services through its psychiatric rehabilitation program. 

The program, called Island House, is one of only four such programs in South Carolina. It has been designed to help adults with severe and persistent mental illness work on their recovery goals in a highly supportive and nurturing group environment.  

Program members work toward enhancing their psychological, social and living skills as well as purposeful daily goal setting.  One of the key differentiators of the Island House program is that it features a skills enhancement component, in which the clients work together to prepare their daily lunch meal and an afternoon snack.  All food is generously supplied by Second Helpings, with the objective of this activity being used to encourage those in the program to help family members at home.

Going forward, we all must remember 1 in 5.  Yes, 1 in 5 people will deal with mental illness in their lifetime, and what’s important is getting them help and treatment.  

We all play a supporting role; from encouraging someone to get help and being mindful that people often avoid or delay seeking treatment or getting help because they are afraid of being treated differently or losing their jobs and livelihood.  

Why? Because stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness is always out there, and it’s something we can all choose not to be a part of.

Remember, there is help available. By doing our part, we are all helping to build stronger communities.

Steve Caywood is Executive Director of Mental Health America-Beaufort/Jasper