The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded mental health needs, putting even more burden on already overstretched healthcare systems and exposing their systematic flaws. Anxiety and depression rates are still more than triple what they were before the pandemic, and studies indicate that these issues will only intensify as more people feel the consequences of prolonged isolation and the breakdown of social support.
Texas is suffering from a major mental health workforce shortage. In fact, last year’s Access to Care Data report from Mental Health America listed Texas as the worst-ranked state for mental health. According to the report, The Lone Star State has only one mental health practitioner for nearly 1,000 Texans. There aren’t nearly enough professionals to help Texans with their mental health problems. Unfortunately, it isn’t new.
Even before the pandemic hit, it was estimated that almost seven million residents in Texas struggled with at least one mental health-related issue. More than half living with a mental illness received no care or treatment at all. Even worse, 2/3’s of counties in Texas have zero psychiatrists, according to the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Greg Hansch. Texas has been negligent, according to Hansch, in its funding of mental health services. The lack of well-trained, certified, and fully licensed mental health personnel drastically affects patients’ access to treatment and care.
Children and Young Adults Worst Affected
Mental health is not only an issue in Texas. The latest nationwide mental health crisis has hit school-age children and young adults particularly hard. As covered by NBC News, ER mental health-related visits went up by around 150% for children during the pandemic. Meanwhile, ED visits among young adults and teenagers due to mental illness-related suicide has more than doubled, with teens in mental distress flocking to pediatricians, according to the New York Times.
Consequences of Mental Health Issues are Dire
If not detected and treated early, mental health issues can have far more adverse effects on both the patient and society at large. In Texas, where police respond to mental distress cases rather than trained healthcare providers or social workers, the consequences, especially among youth and young adults, are even more disparaging. These incidents can result in altercations that lead to unnecessary criminalization, drug addiction, and tragedies like suicide or homicide.
A person with an untreated mental health-related issue is 16 times more likely to get killed in an encounter with the police, as reported by USA TODAY. In Texas, law enforcement offices joke that Harris County Jail is basically “the biggest mental health center” in the Lone Star State, with more than three-quarters of the inmates struggling with a form of mental illness.
… But Help Is On the Way for Texans Battling Mental Health Issues
Despite the bleak reality, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has recently tabled a bipartisan bill with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada). The bill, coded SB 1902, would be a game-changer in terms of how mental health is viewed, addressed, and funded in the US.
In particular, Cornyn’s bill would establish well-defined federal guidelines and standards for mental health crisis responses, including universal 24/7 access to walk-in patient urgent care, observation and stabilization beds, urgent care facilities, and dedicated crisis hotlines. If passed, the legislation would also establish grants to train mental health professionals, provide technical assistance, and reinforce mental health crisis service capacity.
Cornyn’s bill proposes reforms that have already proven successful in some parts of Texas. The Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team (RIGHT Care) program, which began in 2018, provides complete emergency response to calls stemming from mental health emergencies. Abilene and Dallas are among America’s first cities to implement this type of system.
New private practices are making it easier for people to seek health as well, such as Geode Health’s upcoming Southlake location in Texas, which will be opening this year.
As advocates for the betterment of mental health treatment and care delivery in Texas as well as nationwide, we highly support the passing of this bill. Seeking professional help is one of the best ways to improve your mental health. The legislation’s crisis reforms and funding will serve as a solid foundation for Texans and many other Americans needing personalized and well-designed mental health care treatments.