ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Crisis centers around south Georgia want you to know there is help available if you're dealing with a mental illness.
After the closure of Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville in 2013, people dealing with behavioral health issues have experienced challenges finding resources close to home.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20 percent of people ages 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition.
But as the state worked to move people out of mental hospitals and into communities, people were left clueless as to where they would find help and what resources are available to them.
"Statistically, I always do this, this is my example: one in four lives with a diagnosis, two of the remaining three have a loved with a diagnosis or live with a mental disorder, and then the fourth person is just lucky. Or they don't know it yet," said NAMI Moultrie President Shannon Bell.
It's a statistic that Bell uses to help folks understand just how much mental health affects our lives.
"It's not just one thing" she said. "It's not like diabetes or cancer where you have these check marks that you can check off that make it a mental health disorder."
Close to home
Bell has been affected by mental illness through her brother.
While sitting in a class, ironically enough, learning about mental health, she got a call that changed her life forever.
"I got a call that he had been hospitalized. His 10-year-old son found him with a shotgun in his mouth," she said.
Shannon's brother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
From that moment on, Shannon dedicated herself to learning about mental illness.
She even stayed by his side while he was in Thomasville searching for the help he needed at Georgia Pines, which is the center that opened after Southwestern State Hospital closed its doors.
"We went down there and we sat in a room," said Bell. "And we were just a number. It was hard because we just sat, and we just waited, and waited, and waited."
It's a problem many people are facing.
Bell said after the hospital closed in 2013, crisis centers were overcrowded with long wait times.
Southwestern State Hospital had a total of 79 patients, 37 were Adult Mental Health beds, 42 were forensic beds.
But Albany's Aspire Chief Clinical Officer Dana Glass said the hospital's closing brought a positive change.
"It wasn't to eliminate a resource," Glass said. "It was, these are people that are spending their lives living in a hospital, an institutional setting, that could be in our community functioning on a day to day basis."
But as a result, Glass said more outpatient care clinics saw a dramatic increase in the volume of patients seeking help.
Where can you go?
At Aspire, they offer 24-7 walk-in access to accommodate the growing need.
"Our numbers may have put you a month out for an appointment. Now, you can walk in today and be seen," said Glass. "You don't have to wait six months for an appointment, you don't have to go to Atlanta to get services. It's accessible right here in the community."
Shannon agrees that more centers are opening up, but patients usually have limited or no means of transportation to get there.
She recognizes improvements as mental health education and awareness increase in the community and, most recently, in law enforcement.
Training makes a difference
Moultrie Police Lieutenant Daniel Lindsay said they recognized a need to partner with NAMI to train their officers in Crisis Intervention Training.
"A lot of hospitals now have more outpatient programs, which allows people who are in recovery to be in our community," he said. "And when those people go into crisis, then a lot of times the police department or law enforcement is the first one to respond to their call for service."
Lt. Lindsay said the CIT training teaches officers how to talk to those individuals, how to deescalate a situation, and how to handle the situation in an effective manner.
He said those individuals can call and request a CIT trained officer.
"We've had several cases where individuals have gone into crisis, and an officer that is trained in it is able to begin a dialogue with the individual and deescalate the situation," said Lt. Lindsay.
Lt. Lindsay said the Moultrie Police Department's goal is to have all of their officers trained.
And the Moultrie Police Department is not the only department in our region that has seen the importance of CIT training.
Officers in Albany and Thomasville are just a couple of departments that Lt. Lindsay said have taken the initiative to train their officers with hopes of avoiding a use of force type scenario.
Shannon says an increase in CIT trained officers is a step in the right direction, but she believes there's more work to be done to ensure the optimum care for people like her brother.
"We're not quite where we need to be," she said, "but we're making progress."
Find help near you
There are multiple resources available to those who need help.
This website gives you access to what's available near you.
You can type in your address, how far you're willing to travel away from home, and the service you need.
You will instantly receive a list of available resources, with addresses, websites, and phone numbers.