'Epidemic' in York, Chester, Lancaster child mental illness spawns a network of help

Rock Hill students share struggles with mental illness

Winthrop University senior Colleen Vaughn shares her story of dealing with a mental breakdown that forced her to take time off of school. Rock Hill student Faith Anderson said she has seen friends struggle with anxiety.
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Winthrop University senior Colleen Vaughn shares her story of dealing with a mental breakdown that forced her to take time off of school. Rock Hill student Faith Anderson said she has seen friends struggle with anxiety.

Educators and mental health professionals are seeing psychotic symptoms in younger children. Help exists for families and individuals struggling with mental illness.

"We have seen a rise in our psychotic children, starting with symptoms as early as 6 or 7 years old," said Tamara Edrington, director of the Catawba Community Mental Health Center's Family Center.

It's a trend that is "very rare" in children younger than 15, said Paul Cornely, Ph. D, executive director of the Catawba Community Mental Health Center in Rock Hill. He said the typical onset of psychosis is 18-25 years old.

The rise in mental illness in children has forced educators to establish new strategies to deal with what they call an 'epidemic.' They're now forced to confront the issue of student mental illness, and related misbehavior, in the classroom.

Catawba Mental Health has counselors in Rock Hill, Clover and Chester and Lancaster county schools.

"Any time a student is deemed risky or high risk, school psychologists with the help of the mental health professionals, will do a risk assessment to determine how high of a risk," Edrington said. “Being in the schools is important, because right when the crisis is happening it can be addressed as opposed to hours later."

Some symptoms that should be monitored include isolation from children who are normally active, unusual aggression and destructive behavior, Edrington said. Quiet children should not be overlooked and families should also monitor children who have experienced bullying.

Services exist to help York, Chester and Lancaster County families dealing with mental illness.

Counseling Services

Community centers are a good option for families and individuals to find a variety of mental health services.

The Catawba Community Mental Health Center operates under the S.C. Department of Mental Health and provides an array of services in one place.

The Catawba Family Center, which is part of the health center, offers family therapy, group therapy, psychiatric assessments and other counseling services, Edrington said. The family center serves York County children ages 3 to 18.

"We have the philosophy that you really can't treat a child without involving the family," Cornely said.

The family center, located at 448 Lakeshore Parkway, accepts walk-ins and is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. On-call staff is available for emergencies.

The center accepts most insurances. The clinic does not turn away individuals for an inability to pay, Edrington said. For more information call 803-329-3177.

Each person who walks into the clinic receives an assessment, which screens for disorders such as anxiety and depression and is used to develop a care plan for the individual and their family, Edrington said.

Catawba has counselors trained in therapy developed to help children dealing with trauma-related problems, Cornely said.

"Unfortunately a lot of these children and adolescents have been exposed to some kind of trauma," he said.

The center also offers a type of therapy meant to help individuals suffering from depression, PTSD, borderline personality disorder and other issues and who may be suicidal, Edrington said. She said it works well for children who harm themselves.

The Catawba Community Mental Health Center also has clinics that treat all ages. All clinics are open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. On-call staff is available for emergencies.

  • York Adult Services - 205 Piedmont Blvd., Ste. 100, 803-327-2012
  • Chester Clinic - 524 Doctors Court, 803-581-8311

  • Lancaster Clinic - 1906 Hwy. 521 Bypass South, 803-285-7456

Another local resource is the Saluda Counseling Center, a not-for-profit behavioral health clinic, which has locations in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Lancaster and Chester. The center offers counseling for couples, families, adults and children dealing with anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction recovery, trauma, grief and other issues.

Saluda accepts commercial insurance and Medicare but does not accept Medicaid, said Kristina Conroy, business manager. Saluda's Care Fund provides help for families or individuals who do not have insurance or who cannot afford services. For more information, visit or call 803-327-6103.

Other resources include Palmetto Counseling, Affinity Health Center and Skycare Services in Rock Hill and Thrive Family Services in Clover. Private practices are also available in the region.

Support Groups and Educational Programs

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, is one resource that offers support groups and educational courses for parents, families and individuals. NAMI Piedmont Tri-County serves York, Chester and Lancaster County.

NAMI Connection Recovery is a support group that meets weekly or monthly for people living with mental illness. NAMI Family is a weekly or monthly group for family members, partners and friends of individuals with mental illness.

The NAMI Family-to-Family course, a free 12-session program, helps families better understand mental illness, become advocates for loved ones dealing with mental health challenges and teaches families coping skills.

NAMI's classes are run by volunteers who have experienced mental illness themselves or have cared for a loved one, said Judy Rauppius, spokesperson for NAMI Piedmont.

"We're connecting them with people who have the lived experience," she said.

NAMI also offers in-school presentations for middle and high school students that focus on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to recognize early warning signs. There is a program for students, one for families and one for school staff.

The Ending the Silence for Students program is a "good first step for schools" to educate students on mental illness, positive coping mechanisms and suicide prevention, Rauppius said. She said students who attend the program hear from and speak with someone recovering and living with mental illness.

"What I like about the program is that it’s real; it’s genuine," Rauppius said. "It’s not always easy. Recovery doesn’t mean cured."

NAMI does not charge for services. For a full list of support groups, educational programs and other services visit or call 803-610-8174.

For help:

  • 24/7 crisis text line: Text "NAMI" to 741747

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082
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