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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Opinion

Increased funding the right therapy for state mental health


When the grassroots movement of the tea party appeared, one of its unifying battle cries was “cut spending.” That meant cuts across the board, especially to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Mental health patients bore most of those cuts. Texas spends about $34.57 per resident and ranks 49th in overall spending in mental health — a drastic fall from 2006 when Texas ranked 10th in mental-health spending.

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, light has been shed on mental illness. The importance of mental-health awareness is underscored by the recent uptick of public massacres.

James Holmes, Adam Lanza and Jared Lee Loughner are mentally disturbed men who could have been stopped if they had an easier pathway to mental-health aid.

All exhibited signs of mental illness, but they were neither stopped nor helped. Friends reported drastic changes in their behavior, and police and mental health professionals also encountered Loughner and Holmes at various points before they committed their atrocities. There can never be any clear answers or resolutions.

Had there been a better process, the perpetrators could have gotten help and the crimes prevented.

In Texas, a person can voluntarily admit himself to a mental facility. It is harder and more inefficient for one person to involuntarily commit another.

According to the Texas Mental Health Code, the criteria for an adult committing an involuntary individual demands the adult must file a written application for emergency detention that must indicate the applicant has reason to believe the person exhibits signs of mental illness and they pose a threat to themselves or others. The applicant must provide evidence and descriptions, and convince the judge to detain the individual.

In a recent study by the Texas Department of State Health Services, a relatively large number of persons in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system who are in prison, on parole or on probation are also current or former consumers of the TDSHS-funded mental-health system.

With the public mental health system already at capacity, a substantial increase in funding would be essential for community mental-health services. Most mentally ill individuals come into contact with police and are subsequently thrown in jail.

Often overlooked is that those encounters are the result of a mental disorder. Some criminals receive jail time, but others pass anonymously through the system and don’t get the help they need. With the right treatment, there is a better chance of preventing patients from wreaking havoc.

The mental health system is in need of more funding. Last year, the 82nd State Legislature passed sweeping budget cuts. The new legislative session convened Tuesday, and the majority of the freshmen Republicans were tea party candidates that toppled tenured Republicans. It is unclear whether mental illness will become an issue this legislative season, but there are signs of hope.

“We need to work on mental health,” said State Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) in a recent interview with KVUE radio station.

It’s time for the Texas legislature to take responsibility and move up from dead last in support for mental health,” State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) posted Tuesday on Twitter. Polifact.com declared her statement mostly true. Texas is actually ranked next to last in mental-care funding.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle agree that mental health is an issue that can no longer be overlooked, and that is a good sign. The question is not whether there is enough money, but whether mental health has become important enough to warrant more funding.

Alex Cabellero is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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