By Samantha Herstine
Buddy Wier knows how mental illness affects a family.
"I have a family member who has a mental illness and I know the need for services," Buddy said. "We need to raise awareness about mental illness."
Wier and hundreds of others rallied at the South Carolina Statehouse urging better treatment for those with mental illness and their families on Wednesday.
The South Carolina legislature has cut the Department of Mental Health's budget by $109 million dollars since 2008. The 50 percent funding cut brought people to the State House steps.
A National Alliance on Mental Illness South Carolina (NAMI SC) report says, one in four South Carolinians or 1.1 million people, are affected by mental illness. The reports says the Department of Mental Health helps 100,000 people affected by mental illness.
Bill Lindsey, Executive Director of NAMI SC, said recent cuts mean less care for those with mental illness.
"The Department of Mental Health is only able treat the sickest of the sick," Lindsey said.
He specifically referred to the part of the law that gave people with schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression, access to medications. But part was cut last week.
"Those folks are not going to have open access to medication...which could mean they don't get the drugs they need to stay well...and that's unfortunate," Lindsey added.
Lindsey also said the probability that a person with mental illness will end up in the emergency room or in jail may be more likely without the proper treatment and medication.
"Thirty two percent...thirty two percent of the jail population in Richland County are mentally ill," Richland County Councilman Gregory Pearce stressed at the rally.
The NAMI study says it costs South Carolina over $16,000 to treat one person with mental illness in jail per year. It costs $2,400 a year for someone with a mental illness to go to one of the Department of Mental Health's Community Centers compared to $2,400 for one outpatient emergency room visit according to NAMI.
But the main message at the rally was hope. Speakers said there is hope for recovery and spoke of erasing the stigma associated with mental illness.
"Our folks are fully capable of leading great, productive lives if they get the treatment," Lindsey told the crowd.
Many of the Mental Health advocates headed inside the Statehouse after the rally to talk to representatives. Wier stayed around the Statehouse steps talking to other advocates after the rally. He knows about recovery first hand.
"Absolutely there is hope. My daughter is a good example of that who has struggled through the things I just talked about, but is doing well now."
The legislature is considering trimming another $700 million from the South Carolina's budget. Mental Health Advocates say more cuts to the Department of Mental Health will negatively affect those with mental illness and the State of South Carolina.