The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Untreated mental illness carries huge hidden cost

Here is yet another article that decries the State’s cutting of the Mental Health Budget in an attempt to balance the overall budget. In this case it is the great state of South Carolina.

I simply don’t understand.  Does anyone really believe that by cutting funds for the mentally ill they will just “poof”–go away?  Is there no one in charge of these budgets that sees the BIG picture and understands that if left untreated, the budgets of other sections of state governments will be stretched to breaking?

We are already seeing the “criminalization” of mental illness because our jails and prisons are full of untreated mentally ill.  We already see the County Sheriff’s departments speaking out about the added load to their already over-heavy load.

We have already suffered from an overcrowded and understaffed Emergency Room and have had news stories about people dying while waiting for service there.

As a psychiatric nurse, I know that it is not uncommon for psychiatric patients to wait for days in an ER bed due to limited number of psychiatric beds available in the area.

How can this be good stewardship of budget funds?  I don’t have any answers, but I certainly have several questions.  How about you?


By Bill Lindsey

As the debate over how to balance the state’s 2010 budget begins to take center stage, one matter that can’t be ignored is life-saving health care for people living with mental illness. This past Sunday The State newspaper led with a report on the devastating $59 million cut to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health since June 30, 2008.

These cuts on top of the decrease in funding over the past decade (in 2001 the DMH budget was $189 million and with the additional proposed 15 percent cuts for this year the budget will be $149 million), coupled with the loss of Medicaid revenue are unfathomable.

One in four of South Carolina’s residents and their families contend with mental illness at some point in their lives. Practically all South Carolinians work, worship or know someone in our community who lives with mental illness. Between 90,000 and 100,000 South Carolinians rely on the state mental health-care system for necessary treatment and services. Over 30,000 are children and adolescents.

State budget cuts in mental health threaten the health of our families and our communities. They also pose high costs in other sectors — such as emergency departments, jails and schools. The “Catch 22” is that the state of South Carolina will still pay a heavy price if the Department of Mental Health Budget is not restored. The price will be paid in additional funding for jails, homeless shelters, emergency rooms, hospitals, deaths, and destroyed families.

The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion each year in the United States but, more importantly, lives are literally at stake. Treatment works — if you can get it. State mental health services represent hope for recovery. Without them, more people will end up in emergency rooms, in shelters, on the street, in jail or dead.

Cuts are coming while the need for services is increasing. In fall 2009, the national unemployment rate reached its highest levels in more than 25 years: approximately 10 percent and in South Carolina the unemployment rate reached over 12 percent. Unemployed workers are four times more likely than those with jobs to report symptoms of severe mental illness. Four times as many report thoughts of harming themselves.

More than 45 million Americans lack health insurance. One in three young adults ages 19-26 is uninsured — even though three-quarters of all lifetime cases of mental illness occur by age 24.

South Carolina needs to protect and strengthen existing mental health services in local communities. We need to invest in proven, cost effective treatment and supports for recovery.

With proper treatment, many persons with mental illness will experience recovery and many of those will return to independent living and taxpayer status.

Tough times require wise decisions. Budget priorities must not be pennywise and dollar-foolish. We must insist that our local state legislators vote for mental health, which means voting to save lives.

Two other issues for those with mental illness need to be addressed.

First housing for those with mental illness and other disabilities is deplorable in many cases as noted by the recent study completed by Protection and Advocacy for those with Disabilities. Without decent housing it is impossible for people to recover and get back to becoming a contributing member of society.

Second, South Carolina has an ever-increasing number of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and their families that are in need of mental health services. We cannot turn our backs on these heroes that have given so much for us by limiting their access to treatment.

The Department of Mental Health has been a leader for the past two years in securing additional services for these veterans through The Returning Veterans Policy Academy. This project is already producing excellent results for veterans and for providers of mental health services.

Many issues are competing for attention and funds are limited. With so many other interests, individuals and families affected by mental illness urgently need the voices of others in their communities to fiercely join their own in speaking out for South Carolina’s Department of Mental Health and for the thousands of individuals whose lives hang in the balance.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It can strike anyone at any time. It affects Democrats and Republicans alike.

Our legislators must stand together to save mental health care.

We must send them that message now.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to helping individuals and families living with serious mental illness, has made the state budget crisis its top priority, both in South Carolina and nationwide.

But we can’t do it alone.

Too often, mental illness is overlooked, marginalized, trivialized or stigmatized.

The result has been a mental health crisis, while states have struggled to build modern systems of care.

The progress made in the past is now at risk. We need the help of others to save it in order to save lives. Preserving South Carolina’s funding for mental health services and support is essential for the future of our people.

Additional Facts

GUEST COLUMN Bill Lindsey is executive director of NAMI SC and a member of the Returning Veterans Policy Academy. For more information write to email at

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January 20, 2010 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , ,


  1. I know this is for SC – but I am in IL and this is quite relevant. Will pass it around. Thanks.

    Comment by Lisa H | January 20, 2010 | Reply

    • Lisa, Thanks for commenting. I try to find relevant articles to post that make you think and start you wondering. I hope you will return again and again as I post quite frequently.

      Comment by Shirley Williams | January 20, 2010 | Reply

  2. Very nice article! Thanks for sharing it with us!

    Comment by reading fundation | July 30, 2011 | Reply

  3. Well, I read all your posts for now…I’llcome back tomorow for more great posts!

    Comment by diver blog | July 30, 2011 | Reply

  4. Really great post, I’ll definitelly come back on your website.

    Comment by paratriathlon | August 4, 2011 | Reply

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