By Sharon M. Holder
South Carolina has a lot to be proud of: a storied heritage, diverse population, thriving economy, and vibrant landscape spanning mountains to ocean. Yet there is one area where our great state can do better: mental health and substance use. Everyone deserves access to evidence-based care for mental health and substance-use disorders.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 43.7 million adults ages 18 or older in the United States live with a diagnosable mental health condition. Further, of those who live with mental illness, 56% of adults do not receive treatment. For South Carolina, our mission is even more urgent. The number of adults in South Carolina with a mental illness is a staggering 636,000, or 17.6% of our population, and the need for compassionate and qualified care has never been greater.
According to recent reports, South Carolina ranks among the top 15 states in the nation for prevalence of mental illness among teens and adults, yet 37th for access to care. “The State of Mental Health in America 2018” measures South Carolina against 15 criteria, demonstrating the magnitude of the problem and the dismal access to care our mental health services struggle to provide, presenting a dire need.
The Upstate features something unique that is helping address the mental health and substance use crisis — a collaboration between health care professionals, law enforcement officers, lawmakers, and community leaders — the Southeastern Symposium on Mental Health. About to launch its fourth annual gathering, the symposium will be held May 17-18 at the Greenville Convention Center.
Past symposiums have attracted national attention with speakers such as former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy; best-selling author and journalist Pete Earley; former “second lady” Tipper Gore; Elizabeth Vargas, Emmy Award-winning journalist and former ABC co-anchor of “20/20”; and Dr. Thomas Insel, former director of NIMH and co-founder and president of Mindstrong Health.
This year, the symposium will feature speakers such as Herschel Walker, legendary football player and Heisman Trophy winner; Daniel Rodriguez, former Clemson football player and Purple Heart recipient; Drew Pinsky, a practicing physician board-certified in addiction medicine and a nationally renowned television personality; and Antwone Fisher, best-selling author and screenwriter. Fisher, who is due to speak Saturday afternoon, is the subject “Antwone Fisher,” directed by Denzel Washington. Several other regional and national health professionals will speak throughout the conference.
The Southeastern Symposium on Mental Health is a collaboration hosted by the Prisma Health-Upstate Department of Psychiatry in partnership with Prisma Health Science Center partners — Clemson University, Furman University, and the University of South Carolina. Also a part of this effort are community partners that include the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Greenville, NAMI South Carolina, The Carolina Center for Behavioral Health, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, and Faces and Voices of Recovery.
The decades of experience from qualified individuals and organizations is astounding, yet they all gather for a specific purpose. The goals of the symposium are to promote community awareness of mental health and substance-use issues, reduce stigma and discrimination, improve equity for mental health care comparable to other health care, and inform public policy. Essentially, fostering an educated and empathetic community will result in better care, better laws, and a better quality of life for all.
There is no health without mental health, and because every voice matters — particularly those facing the challenges of mental illness and the associated social stigma — it is not only the smart thing to do, it is an obligation to address mental health disparities among the vulnerable, underserved, and marginalized populations in our community.
This year’s theme for the symposium is “Reducing Mental Health Disparities Through Sustaining and Strengthening Healthy Communities: Increasing Knowledge Through Research, Education, and Practice.” The symposium features topics for community members and mental health professionals, as well as continuing medical education credits and continuing education units for those studying mental health for their careers. The symposium is unique in that it is also offering legal professionals continuing legal education credits during its Friday program. This exciting event is always enlightening, encouraging, and hopeful, as every social stratum of our great state gathers to learn more about mental health, the challenges faced by the mentally ill, and what we all can do to improve our communities.
Find out more and register at www.sesmh.org. Sharon M. Holder, PhD., M.S., MSW, is co-chair of the Southeastern Symposium on Mental Health and research assistant professor in the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson University.