May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and there is much that most people are not aware of about mental health. Just more than 43 million Americans experience a mental illness in a given year, including millions of cases of depression, anxiety disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. USC psychiatrist Dr. Meera Narasimhan says many illnesses are caused by the stresses of everyday life, such as unemployment or divorce, or more jarring experiences such as war.
The S.C. Dept. of Mental Health treats about 100,000 patients a year and other agencies treat another 50,000, according to department Director John Magill. DMH Deputy Director Mark Binkley adds that more people could be helped, but the agency, like all health care providers, is in a finite labor market, and the shortage of doctors and nurses affects many areas of the health care field. However, despite this limitation, Magill says the department has used technology to treat thousands of patients across the state with one of the largest telepsychiatry systems in America.
Using this method to treat patients at remote distances, the department has treated 84,000 South Carolinians and become a national leader in telepsychiatry, as well as becoming a national leader in school-based mental health. He believes that in the future, mental health providers will have to work more closely with other providers to get closer to patients in areas where more care is needed, including law enforcement, large hospital emergency rooms and still more school systems. Narasimhan agrees with the group cooperation concept, quoting Helen Keller: “Alone, we can do little. Together, we can do much.”