First ever Mental Health Symposium comes to Chatham County

First ever mentee Health Symposium comes to Chatham County

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - One in four American adults suffer from some form of mental illness, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

In order to better serve the people of Chatham County through access to treatment and reduce the stigma of mental illness, leaders in mental health, law enforcement, and the government met on Wednesday for the first-ever Mental Health Symposium.

The symposium brought together leaders from around the region, and from Atlanta, including the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. We attended the event, learning that regarding mental health, one key issue has been on the mind of leaders in Chatham County.

"There are a large number of inmates who will soon be coming out because they needed treatment; they didn't need to be incarcerated, and so we need to give attention to what that population needs as well, so that they don't recidivate," said Frank Berry, Commissioner, BDHDD. "I think one of the biggest issues is easy access to high-quality care, which is a big part of what we're trying to accomplish as a department, and with working with our network of providers, people need to be able to get their care very quickly. And so, we're working collaboratively across the state with our community providers, so that people can get that care that they need very easily."

That's just one area in need of improvement observed by the commissioner for the whole state, but it strikes a chord right here in Chatham County, especially with detention center administrators.

"We have, at this time in the Chatham County Jail, around 1,650 inmates. Out of that population, about 425 or 430 are suffering from some form of mental health illness," said Sheriff Roy Harris, Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

"We are having this symposium because we see a problem day in and day out, I've only told you about three cases here of people who are coming into the system that maybe they don't have criminal intent, but they're committing crimes. What are we going to do about it," said Chatham District Attorney, Meg Heap.

"We are significantly asking for increases in our psychiatric services, and for psychiatric nurses. Where we currently have two psychiatric nurses on board, we need six. We need them there 24/7," Sheriff Harris said.

That will require some help from the county commission, and they're already looking to allocate the funds needed.

"But our big thing is having psychiatrists; having folks who understand how to deal with mental health patients, and that's been a big problem for us in the past. A lot of its going to be training for existing staff, so I think we're on the right track," said Chatham County Manager, Lee Smith.

"These are processes that we need to look at and invest on the front end, so we're not picking up the pieces on the back end," said Helen Stone, Chatham County Commissioner.

Commissioner Berry says the state is also focusing on a huge prescription drug addiction issue among teens, as well as treatment for PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

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