United Way plans to shift health focus after finding 55% of Horry County needed mental health care last year

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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – More than half of people experienced poor mental health in Horry County last year, according to a survey from the United Way.

The survey, completed by more than 3,800 people, found that 54% of those who answered said they needed help with their mental health in 2020.

The results came from the United Way of Horry County’s 2021 Community Needs Assessment, which was administered to get the pulse on issues within the community. United Way provides grant funding to agencies that fall underneath different areas it has identified as needs.

In 2020, there were 16.2 suicides per 100,000 people, and a ratio of one mental health provider for every 650 residents in Horry County, according to a summary of the survey results. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in South Carolina for people between the ages of 10 to 24, and is the 11th leading cause of death for all age groups.

The number of people struggling with their mental health is likely much higher than the survey shows.

“That is the people that have admitted they need help,” said Blakely Roof, the president and CEO of the United Way of Horry County.

The survey was primarily sent out through Horry County Schools. The United Way also held table sessions with small groups.

As a result, Roof said the United Way of Horry County will make mental health its sole health focus in 2023 because it sees a need to destigmatize getting help and removing barriers to access. 

According to the survey, 17% of people in Horry County don’t have health insurance. For those who do, it often doesn’t cover mental health care, or only covers a few sessions.

There can also be long wait times for people who are able to access care. 

Mental health has links to other community issues.

“A lot of addiction stems from mental health,” Roof said. “There are all sorts of situations that go with mental health.”

The pandemic has led to more people experiencing poor mental health, according to area health agencies.

“Certainly over the last year and a half we have seen quite a shift,” said Lori Parrish, the director of children’s services for the Waccamaw Center for Mental Health. 

COVID-19  has posed the problem of how to connect with patients over the phone or through video. While there was an initial slowdown in intakes, Parrish said it was followed by a rise in people seeking help. 

Those higher numbers, she said, haven’t changed. She points to isolation, worry about losing jobs and a fear of getting sick as factors that have contributed to higher rates of anxiety and depression. 

The first step, she said, is saying that someone needs help. The second is finding it, which Parrish said can be complicated for those who don’t know where to go. 

The survey’s results, however, could indicate that more people are admitting they are struggling, especially because men and racial minorities are much less likely to seek treatment and talk about mental health. The pandemic, Parrish said, could be leading to a shift.

“I think that when COVID hit, and everyone was going through it at the [same] time, it wasn’t just that they were going through it [alone], which is what sometimes keeps people from seeking help,” she said. 

She expects to continue to see higher numbers for a while.

“Sometimes it may take them a minute to realize they need help, and getting back to a better place takes time, as well,” she said. 

Little River Medical Center has seen an increase in patients who are coming in for primary care and are showing physical symptoms that are caused by poor mental health, according to Taanya Mannain, the center’s director of integrated health care services. 

Those can include stomachaches, headaches, insomnia and changes in appetite.
Those are things, Mannain said, that can be normalized and not recognized as symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

“Due to the stigma correlated with mental health disorders, they won’t identify and they won’t see that,” she said. “They’ll focus on the physical pain.”

Licensed mental health providers will work with primary care physicians to provide help. Mannain said the center offers screening with primary care for anxiety and depression. Staff also reinforce the importance of meeting with a counselor, using coping strategies or getting on medications. 

The state’s crisis response dispatch can be reached at (833) 364-2274. Deaf services can be reached at 800-647-2066 V-TTY.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health has a mobile crisis team that can travel to those in need. 

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