MYRTLE BEACH — Maintaining your mental health is always important, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And the South Carolina Department of Mental Health will now be able to help South Carolinians even more effectively after receiving a federal grant for $6,403,686 to help those in rural areas who need mental health and substance abuse crises support.
The primary focus of the initiative will be a Mobile Response Program, or Highway to Hope Mobile Response Program (H2H), that will serve nine South Carolina counties beginning in early 2021.
“I was formerly the director of the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center, and we had an RV at that center, and we’ve had one for about a decade at that center,” said Deborah Blalock, SCDMH Deputy Director of Community Mental Health Services. “So I saw how the RV gave us a lot of flexibility in serving folks in rural areas. So being able to buy nine RVs to expand our services…is huge for our state, because it really will expand our reach.”
There are three mental health centers that serve these areas. Waccamaw Center for Mental Health serves Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties; Pee Dee Mental Health Center serves Florence, Darlington and Marion counties; and Tri-county Mental Health Center serves Chesterfield, Marlboro and Dillon counties.
Blalock thinks the pandemic has increased the need for these services.
“I think people are experiencing a lot of stress and a lot of anxiety related to the pandemic,” she said. “So there are many things contributing to that obviously, (such as), ‘Will I have a job? Will I be able to feed my family? I’m isolated, so I can’t see my family or see my friends. Am I going to get sick? Is somebody I love going to get sick?’ So all those factors are contributing to peoples’ anxiety.”
Blalock also points to social injustice in the United States and a highly-anticipated election as triggers for emotional distress.
“Not to mention the factors related to civil unrest and the anxiety that that’s creating,” she said. “And then when you toss in a very contentious election cycle, then there’s even more anxiety and concern related to that. So I think all of those factors together have created a very stressful environment from cradle to grave.”
Blalock hopes SCDMH’s new mobile services can help alleviate some of the mental health issues people may experience from these unrelenting circumstances.
“Our ability to be able to go out into the community and find people where they are instead of people having to come far distances to come to us will really help us, hopefully, calm down some of the anxiety, stress and fears related to all the current events,” she said.
Blalock said the RVs should be ready by spring 2021, so until they are ready, SCDMH will sent staff out to the rural areas in vans to take care of patients’ needs starting Jan. 1.
The RVs, when online, will also be able to provide primary care to patients in addition to mental health care.
“We’ll be able to address both needs for folks…which I think is a really big deal,” Blalock said. “Again, in a rural area, having that capacity to take that care to the people who need the care versus people having to come find two different agencies (is huge). So (I’m) super excited about it; it’s a big win for South Carolina.”