Policy speaker educates students on mental health issues in Texas

Sunny Kim

Despite national efforts to increase medical care through the Affordable Care Act, Texas has a mental health workforce shortage. 

Lauren Lewis, associate commissioner of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Texas, educated pre-health students on the current situation for mental health issues Monday as part of Health Professions Week, a series of events catered to pre-health field students to help them find the resources to build their careers after graduation.

In Texas, there aren’t enough psychiatrists to diagnose and treat patients with mental health issues, according to the Department of State Health Services. The average number of psychiatrists is 7.3 per 100,000 population, and the number drops to 3 or less in rural and border urban areas. 

Lewis said there is only 15.9 percent of the department’s federal funding goes toward mental healthcare, compared to 73 percent for substance abuse.

“The vast majority of folks with mental illness are [uninsured], they don’t have Medicaid coverage, they don’t have anything,” Lewis said. “We’re struggling to meet all the needs out there.”  

Lewis said the Health and Human Services Commission and DSHS are working together to improve Texas’ policies regarding mental health issues.

“We have a lot of very committed legislators in Texas who are very committed to substance abuse and mental health disorders,” Lewis said. “I think it’s a big priority for the state of Texas. It’s probably going to be a difficult session, but I’m optimistic.”   

Psychology junior Hannah Campos is a peer educator at the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center. Campos said there are many resources available on campus for students struggling with mental health issues. 

“You can call the UT crisis line or the Behavioral Concerns Advice Line if you think that your friend is in need of some sort of help,” Campos said. “We also have an app called ThriveAtUT that helps students with specific things to help their well-being.”

Biomedical engineering senior Sandra Zhi said it’s important to have guest speakers such as Lewis to inform pre-health students on healthcare policies. 

“Knowing about healthcare policies also allows students to form opinions about what they prioritize in care,” Zhi said. “Students studying pre-health here at UT could be the catalyst for change in healthcare policy in the U.S..”