AUSTIN (KXAN) — Mental health issues in populations can lead to increased crime, increased poverty and lower health conditions. Texas mental health resources are scattered throughout the state and rural and inner city areas are underserved. Most areas in Texas do not have an acceptable number of mental health professionals and access, according to industry standards.
Many believe here in Texas, we are in a “mental health crisis,” especially in poorer areas, rural and the inner city.
The Select Committee on Mental Health was specifically created to tackle the issue. On Thursday, the committee — headed by Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo — met to discuss on how the state wants to take a holistic approach regarding mental health treatment. Price says the committee wants to learn as much as possible from healthcare professionals then recommend solutions from both a funding and policy angle ahead of the 2017 legislative session next January.
More than 500,000 Texans struggle with serious mental illness. More than 1.5 million Texans are dependent on alcohol or drugs and thousands of Texans commit suicide every year.
This week the committee heard from experts on insurance and criminal justice mental health professionals.
The Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center is in its first year. The Huston-Tillotson Clinic and the programs that come with it on E. 11th Street, is just getting its programs up and running. Leaders say there’s a big need for physician and mental health services.
“Huston-Tillotson received a $3 million gift, the largest in the institution’s history, from Mrs. Ada Cecilia Collins Anderson, age 94, who attended Samuel Huston and Tillotson, Austin’s two predominantly black colleges before they were merged, to build the 14,704 square-foot structure. She received a master’s degree in 1965 from UT. The Center is named after her late daughter,” the University said in a press release earlier this year when the clinic opened.
“Ten years from now this facility will probably be too small. Many, many individuals will come through the doors,” said Linda Y. Jackson, with community relations for the university.
Dr. William Lawson leads the partnership with Dell Medical School. His goal is to get more minority mental health providers into the underserved areas of Texas. He says integrated care — mental health care with their primary care check ups — is key.
“We now know that early intervention can actually change the trajectory of what happens with folks who develop a mental disorder,” said Dr. Lawson.
And at the State Capitol, the goal is the same for the select committee on mental health to make integrated care easier.
“Traditionally those times are made at separate times on separate days. So that makes it difficult. But it makes more sense and is more effective,” said Rep. Price.
He wants to clear up policy so people can pay for mental health services and their primary care in one fell swoop.
“Folks with these types of problems are only going to increase so it’s worth our while to take a look at it right now,” Price said.
Rep. Price says funding for more services will likely be a priority this session for his committee as well. Lawmakers begin their session January 2017.
The shortage of mental health services hits harder the farther you get from big cities in Texas. Right now 185 of the 254 counties in Texas do not have a “general psychiatrist”. That includes most of the counties in Central Texas. Travis and the counties closest to Austin are the exceptions.
“Everyone is convinced they know what the problem is,” said Dr. Lawson, “We’ve made some strides but we have a ways to go.”