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Amid crises including abuse of opioids and a rise in the number of suicides, improving the mental health of South Carolinians is in sharper focus.

The S.C. Department of Mental Health is taking important new steps in helping the state -- and The T&D Region -- deal with mental health emergencies.

The agency -- in partnership with local police departments, probate judges, EMS, emergency departments, hospitals, and community providers and organizations -- is expanding its Community Crisis Response and Intervention program to the Midlands, providing services in eight counties.

CCRI provides on-site emergency psychiatric screening and assessment to individuals experiencing mental health emergencies within 60 minutes of contact with the CCRI team. The service is available 24 hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and can be reached toll-free at (833) DMH-CCRI (364-2274).

The Midlands CCRI Team began providing services in Orangeburg, Calhoun, Bamberg, Fairfield and Richland counties in mid-December, and launched in Aiken, Barnwell and Lexington on Jan. 3.

“Our goal is to quickly link people in crisis to appropriate levels of care and divert them from unnecessary hospitalizations or incarcerations," CCRI Director Amanda Gilchrist said.

CCRI, a program of the SCDMH Division of Community Mental Health Services, joined the agency’s existing Charleston and Dorchester area crisis programs in the summer of 2018 in Berkeley, Beaufort and Horry counties. The program also began providing services to Darlington, Florence, and Marion counties on Jan 3.

SCDMH CCRI aims to provide coverage statewide by late summer 2019.

Initiated to address emergent psychiatric crises in the community by means of assessment and referral, the program comprises regional teams and local partners.

CCRI provides clinical screenings to both adults and children in one of several ways: in person at the location of crisis, in person at a community mental health center, or by phone. In addition to accompanying team members to on-site screenings, law enforcement will access CCRI for consultation or request the dispatch of a clinical team to a scene as needed, allowing for a more efficient use of resources as well as a “warm hand-off" for individuals in need of evaluations.

“The goal of SCDMH is for CCRI to eventually be able to provide 24/7 crisis intervention services to those in psychiatric crisis across the entire state,” SCDMH Deputy Director of Community Mental Health Services Deborah Blalock said.

In addition to assessing individuals in crisis, CCRI clinicians will educate individuals on available community resources, coordinate appropriate transfers and referrals, match patients to the most appropriate care, and serve as liaisons to the local SCDMH mental health centers. The team will accept referrals from any community partner or individual reporting a psychiatric crisis.

The collaborative effort is necessary for the program to be successful. Too often crises reach the point where law enforcement must become involved in resolution.

With this program, law enforcement is a partner in emergency response. Collaboration can make a difference in outcomes.

As Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott stated: “Most citizens in mental health crisis situations aren’t criminals; often times they’re just having a really bad day. This partnership will dramatically alter our interactions with them to help address the issue without necessarily resorting to an arrest.”

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