Monday, December 15, 2008

Recession causing S.C. mental health services to be swamped

From the Greenville News in South Carolina:

The recession is driving more and more people to seek mental health services, overwhelming agencies struggling with shrinking budgets.

At the Greenville chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, attendance at a support group for caregivers is up 40 percent over last year, said executive director Kelly Troyer. And the weekly group for patients has seen a jump of nearly 400 percent, she said, from 65 last year to 318.

Job loss, home foreclosures and mounting bills are pushing people to the edge, she said.

“That creates anxiety and stress in a person without a mental illness,” she said. “But for a person with mental illness, it exacerbates their symptoms.”

At the same time, donations are way off. “We had a hard enough time when things were going well with the economy,” she said. “There’s no way we can meet the need now. It’s just huge.”

Some NAMI staffers’ hours had to be cut because of declining funds, just as more people are coming in for help, she said. To make matters worse, more cuts were announced last week to the state Department of Mental Health.

Its budget was reduced another 7 percent, or $13.7 million, on top of a 12 percent cut of $26 million earlier this month signaling a reduction in services. At the Piedmont Center for Mental Health Services in Simpsonville, where demand is also up significantly, executive director Joe James said he has to cut another $284,000 from the budget — an amount that is sure to mean layoffs.

“There’s no way we can maintain all the current programs and staff,” he said. “We will have to prioritize and see only the most needy and most emergent.”

The bad economy compounds the dilemma, and there’s no relief in site, he said. “Almost every week, somebody’s announcing a closure,” James said. “And when there are layoffs, you end up with more uninsured people who do not have access to private services. So they come to our door.”

The number of new clients at the Greenville Mental Health Center is up about 30 percent in the past two months as well, said Dr. Al Edwards, executive director.

“We normally have about 200 (new patients) per month and the last couple of
months it’s been about 270 or so,” he said.

One client who’d been paying on his 30-year mortgage for 20 years faced foreclosure after falling behind two payments, Edwards said. He was seeking help for depression.

“A lot of people are out of work, lose benefits and have problems,” he said. “I think we will see more and more people coming in here, and through drug and alcohol services, too.”

Troyer said the growing demand can’t be met by either the public or private system at their current funding levels.

“It’s tough to see the need increasing,” she said. “We’re in for a major devastation with the homeless rate, the (Greenville County) Detention Center rate, and ER visits.”