Forum discussed Aiken County's mental health issues

The Safe Communities Initiative in Aiken County held a special forum to address the mental health concerns in the area.

Thursday night a panel consisting of health care providers and consumers discussed problems they've seen in the community. The lack of treatment facilities was at the top of the list.

Cheryl Cummings, a counselor at the Stairway Counseling Services, deals with mental health issues on a daily basis, and she says that Aiken County has a problem.

"What I found is that all of the core mental health facilities are all in the inner city in Aiken, and so there's not a lot of people in those outlying areas that are able to get to the services here," Cummings stated.

Aiken County isn't alone. The state of South Carolina's mental health system received a letter D grade. The grade was a B in 2006. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, South Carolinas significant downgrade was caused by the forty million dollar budget cut to the department of mental health. Cummings says that because of the budget cut people in the area either don't have access to treatment or their health insurances don't cover mental illness.

"There's a shortage of psychiatrists here in the area, as well as therapists and counselors."

Nationally, mass shootings in Connecticut, Colorado, and DC were all linked to mental issues that were not diagnosed soon enough or properly treated.

"The only reason why they're violent is because they're not treated," Cummings said.

She doesn't want Aiken County to be a victim of untreated mental health problems.

"I think that overall people just need more access to mental health services here and know where to go to get those services and I also think as a community as a whole we need to start talking about mental health, mental illness, and how to keep yourself healthy."

Under Obamacare, new insurance plans are required to include mental health coverage. Cummings says she hopes that this will help address Aiken County's needs for more clinics to diagnose and treat mental illnesses.