Shortage of mental health facilities problematic for suicide prevention in Horry County

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Suicide rates in South Carolina are greater than the national average, and Horry County’s numbers are even higher than what the state reports.

The latest numbers show that Horry County’s suicide rate from 2004‐2008 was 13.6 deaths per 100,000 population. South Carolina and the USA had rates of 11.8 and 11.2, respectively.

Three years ago a community health assessment placed part of the blame on a lack of access to mental health facilities.

Since then, the numbers have gotten worse. In 2013 the Horry County coroner’s office says 43 people took their own lives. The next year, after the problem had been highlighted, that number jumped to 57.

More recently, the areas major mental health care provider has worked to improve access to care, especially in emergency situations.

“In the past year and half the Waccamaw Center has provided a mental health councilor to several of the emergency rooms in Horry County,” said Lori Chappelle, the Clinic Director at the Conway office for Waccamaw Center for mental health.

Having a dedicated staff member in emergency rooms is a significant step forward because people in need are advised to seek help at ER’s if the situation is dire.

Chappelle says depression and other disorders are a major factor when people commit suicide, and having the proper resources available is important.

“Having a mental health councilor there on site allows for us to provide direct service to be able to find out what there needs are,” said Chappelle.

Despite the efforts, Horry County still faces a shortage of mental health care facilities and doctors that can help those suffering.

“Limited amount of treatment options, I think that’s one of the components even though we are trying to increase that in some areas,” said Chappelle.

Chappelle also pointed to the stigma associated with seeking help for a mental illness as a problem that needs to be addressed.

“People still have trouble coming out and saying the need help and instead sit silently,” said Chappelle.

“What we need to remember is that the brain is an organ just like the heart. If someone had a heart attack you wouldn’t say pull up your boot straps and move on,” said Valerie White, who got involved with suicide prevention and awareness after her 26-year-old daughter Megan took her own life in 2011.

“She had struggled off and on. I thought she was better. She was improving. We were seeing signs she was making progress, and evidently, I don’t know. It’s, you know, one of those things. You’re not sure what happened,” said White.

White now organizes support groups and the Out of the Darkness Walk to raise awareness of the issue.

“We’re hoping to get to that point where it’s something where people aren’t afraid to talk about. Aren’t ashamed to talk about. So they can help someone struggling or if they’re struggling themselves,” said White.

Suicide is a growing problem in South Carolina, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention it was the 11th leading cause of death in 2015 and is the 10th leading cause of death this year.

There’s a national suicide prevention hotline available toll-free 24 hours a day. The number is 1-800-273-talk.

The next Out of the Darkness Walk will be held in October.

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