A Statement by the South Carolina Mental Health Commission and the State Director and Senior Management of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health
June 15, 2020
The leadership of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health writes to express our utter condemnation of and profound sadness about the senseless killing of George Floyd and to denounce all acts of racial violence and hate. We also write to express our support of all those calling for an end to racism and injustice.
The effect of racism and racial trauma on mental health is real. When we say “Black Lives Matter” we are not saying other lives do not. Rather, we are acknowledging that throughout our nation’s history, people of color have experienced life in America differently from white Americans. Still today African Americans experience overt racism and bigotry far too often. They shoulder a mental health burden that is greater simply by virtue of their skin color. Most black Americans live their lives with the added anxiety that they or their family members may be threatened or marginalized based only on their race.
The video of the murder of George Floyd while in police custody is traumatic to see for all of us, and the trauma is magnified by mass media. But it is a mistake to think that we all experience the horror of his death in the same way. For African Americans, the manner of George Floyd’s death represents new trauma on top of past trauma. And we in mental health know that trauma is a major contributor to serious mental health conditions.
The events and discussions which have taken place following the death of George Floyd have made it abundantly clear that the leadership of SCDMH must continue to ensure equity and fairness in the manner in which the agency’s services are delivered and the manner in which the agency’s employees are valued. We commit to being part of the solution.
To that end, we have already discussed the hiring of a full-time chief diversity officer (CDO) whose sole job will be to assist the management of the Department’s many different components in identifying and implementing needed change. As clinicians, we often tell patients that they are only as healthy as their secrets. We are following our own counsel, and we believe the CDO will bring fresh eyes to our agency to help us identify and eliminate instances of disparate treatment of staff and patients.
As the State’s public mental health authority:
- SCDMH must be an agency which represents all citizens equally, those it serves and those it employs;
- SCDMH must continually ensure its environment is a safe environment for all, and which promotes open, honest and civil dialogue between people with differing perspectives; and
- SCDMH must be an agency that supports, encourages, and celebrates diversity.
Only when we achieve this level of equality can we reach our vision of being the mental health employer of choice and the mental health provider of choice in South Carolina. Only when we achieve this vision can we fully meet our mission of supporting the recovery of people living with mental illnesses. We cannot help patients live their best lives and be their best selves unless we as an agency strive continuously to do the same.
We also hope that this will be a time for all SCDMH employees, not just those in leadership roles, to reflect on actions they can take to demonstrate empathy, compassion, and kindness to those with whom they work, and in their communities.