LAURINBURG — In a gathering of some 75 people on Thursday, retired chief District Court judge Bill McIlwain discussed the role played by Scotland Family Counseling Center in an environment where quality mental health care can be hard to find.
McIlwain spoke at the center’s annual appeal for anonymous altruism, known as the Silent Samaritan Society.
“There’s something special about being a Silent Samaritan; we don’t receive any recognition for our gifts, our names are not in a program or on a poster or anything like that,” said society co-leader Terry Gallman. “Just like the Good Samaritan, we provide support anonymously.”
After opening his remarks with lighthearted, self-deprecating humor, McIlwain reminded the counseling center’s supporters of its importance — even though they may never know just who is on the receiving end of its services.
“We never know what’s going on in someone’s mind,” McIlwain said, citing a self-reported depression rate of one-third among young adults.
He also described his discovery, while becoming acquainted with court staff over the years, that many people conceal momentous struggles under a calm facade.
“It wasn’t until I’d been a judge for a long, long time and really developed close personal friendships with them that I discovered that they had problems, too,” he said. “They had tragic deaths in their families, they had health issues, they had financial dilemmas, and they certainly had parenting issues. My point is, they were not unlike all of us.”
Alluding to the idea that the county’s problems could be solved by taking care of its youngest generation, McIlwain proffered his history handling child abuse and neglect cases as evidence of “tremendous need” for mental health counseling in Scotland County.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say, speaking to this group, that I think the next biggest resource we have for counseling in Scotland County is our faith community.”
Though billed as faith-based, Scotland Family Counseling Center offers services regardless of clients’ beliefs.
The most recent overhaul, in 2001, of North Carolina’s mental health care system, led to privatization of a system that had become “really nothing more than a triage service” into a profit-driven environment.
“The end result, in my opinion, was that poor people, working people, and middle-class people, which is essentially Scotland County, ended up with very limited choices about where to get mental help,” McIlwain said.
Danny Caddell, a past society leader, began his remarks with a note of thanks to outgoing Laurinburg Presbyterian Church pastor Neal Carter. The church was the first site of Scotland Family Counseling Center in 2007.
Since then the center has expanded to a trio of counselors providing services full-time in a Medical Drive office, and is expected to serve 1,200 people this year.
“If that’s not evidence of the need for this ministry, I don’t know what is,” Caddell said. “And that’s the people who are directly affected. We all know that mental illness has a ripple effect: it doesn’t just affect the person; it affects the family, it affects their friends, it affects their co-workers, it just goes on and on.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.